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COVID-19, Culture, Social distancing, and Stigma


Making the transition from one set of circumstances to another takes time. Change can also create a sense of pain, sadness, and even anxiety. On Tuesday, July 21, 2020 the Community Service Centre hosted Rosemary Okello-Orlale – (The Director of the Africa Media Hub at the Strathmore University Business School), Guy Harrison, (The Head of Political and Press Section at the European Union Delegation to Kenya) and Dr. David Chiawo – (The Dean at the Strathmore School of Tourism and Hospitality) for a discussion on COVID-19, Culture, Social distancing, and Stigma. The event was moderated by Harriet Koyoson (The Director of Strathmore University Medical Centre – SUMC).

What are the cultural changes that need to be addressed? 

According to Rosemary, we cannot change our culture. Instead we need to evaluate the changes that come with Covid-19. Never in the African culture has there been a time one could not shake hands, visit family or mourn the dead. Dr. Chiawo suggested the need to unlearn some of our cultural habits like socializing as it is the nature of humanity to be together.

 Why are the infection rates higher in men than women?

Nobody has the answer yet. However, across the world women are on the frontlines in taking care of the family. As a result they are taking precautions set forth more seriously as their family well-being depends on them as caregivers. On the other hand, what is it that men are doing that is not right? As shared by Dr. Chiawo over 2/3 of Kenyan men are micro entrepreneurs and for them civil obedience comes second to providing for their families; as a result it increases their vulnerability. In addition, women naturally engage in practicing hygiene.

How do we address some of the stigmas around Covid-19?

We need to address the challenges of stigma from a more personalized level to facilitate behavior change. For example, focusing on the smallest units of relations: family, neighborhoods then community.  Secondly, by continually sharing knowledge on Covid-19. Many do not understand the disease; as a result they choose not to respect it, said Guy Harrison. Stigma is a long term and many people are ‘dying’ more psychologically than in real life.  Therefore support frameworks need to be established.

How are young people dealing with the pandemic?

Many young people are taking the pandemic lightly. However the “Generation Z” are not looking at themselves as victims but problem solvers. In return they are communicating with other young people around the world and it has opened up an arena of innovations and solutions that is being documented.  Some of the platforms they are using to stay connected are Facebook and Zoom.

How do we reset the Covid-19 Button?

All nations need to join in the global commitment of fighting Covid-19. Let each country build back better through resilience, engaging each other and be realistic since solutions are endless. Other reset opportunities lie in building a network of governance that will have inclusivity and transparency on expenditure while valuing public safety. Lastly, let us embrace the 60% of young people in Africa in a language that they understand because they are the leaders of tomorrow.


This article was written by Annete Karanja.


Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu