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Philippine Catholic bishops call for end to ‘coronavirus stigma’

Catholic church leaders in the Philippines appealed to the faithful to put an end to the discrimination against people who are infected with the new coronavirus.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila noted that there seems to be a growing “stigmatization” of people with COVID-19 as the number of cases in the country continues to increase.

The bishop, who recovered from the virus last week, likened the new coronavirus disease with “leprosy at the time of Jesus.”

While leprosy can be seen externally and the new coronavirus is invisible to the human eye, “they both have the same effect on people,” he said.

“Both keep the infected away from other people. They are avoided by others, even by people close to them,” said the prelate.

“There is the strong fear of infection in both cases, largely because of the unknown nature of the disease,” added the bishop.

He said that with the infection is the blame for the supposed “carelessness” of those who acquired the disease. “In both [leprosy and COVID-19] there is a stigma attached,” he said.

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Bishop Patricio Buzon of Bacolod also appealed for an end to “hate” related to the disease that describes patients as “modern lepers.”

“All over the world people are discriminated against because of color, culture, belief, religion, and all kinds of differences,” he said.

Bishop Patricio Buzon of Bacolod and Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila appeal for an end to the “stigmatization” of Covid-19 patients. (Photo from CBCP News)

The bishop appealed for prayers for the country’s healing and for frontliners as cases of the new coronavirus disease continue to increase in the country.

An additional 4,836 infections of the new coronavirus disease brought the Philippines’ tally to 169,213 on Aug. 18.

The Department of Health reported that of the total number of cases, 53,665 of these were “active.”

The national capital region remained to have the most number of cases with 2,959 infections, followed by the province of Laguna with 321, Cavite having 220 cases, Rizal with 185 infections, and Bulacan with 145 cases.

Those areas would be placed under the more relaxed general community quarantine starting Aug. 19 after a two-week reimposition of a strict lockdown.

The Department of Health recorded 182 new recoveries, bringing the total to 112,861. But the country’s death toll rose to 2,687 after seven new fatalities were logged.

Bishop Pabillo called on the faithful not to make those infected with the disease feel that they are stigmatized.

“Unable to fully understand the nature of the disease, the blame falls on the infected person,” the bishop noted in a social media post.

“We follow the medical protocols but we should not shy away from those infected, but in creative ways make them feel that they are not stigmatized by the church community,” said the bishop.

He appealed to the public to instead send messages of encouragement to those who are infected by the disease and to show care.

A police officer checks a bicycle rider’s quarantine pass at a checkpoint placed amid the reimposed strict lockdown to curb COVID-19 infections, in Manila, Philippines, Aug. 17. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

The bishop said sending food, vitamins, and reading materials would also be concrete signs that they the sick are not forgotten.

He recalled the time when he tested positive for the disease and was deluged with messages of sympathy and promises of prayer.

“I truly believe that these prayers really helped. They did not only boost my spirit, but I am sure God heard them,” said the bishop.

He said he is “thankful” for the experience that taught him to better identify with people who are infected and those who are healed.

“It also makes me more cognizant of the reality of the virus,” he said, adding that “it can come to anyone.”

“We should build up our natural immune system so that our body can ward off this infection, and if it does come, the body can fight it off,” he said.

“We also should not discount the proper moral outlook and the spiritual help that our faith gives us. In all this, God loves us and our life is in his hands,” Bishop Pabillo added.

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