The propriety or otherwise of exposing the identity of COVID-19 infected or potentially infected persons which has become a big controversy in Benue State three weeks ago in the case of Mrs Susan Okpeh has received a curt rejection in a similar case in Kano in Northwestern Nigeria. The case in Kano is the circulation of the name, picture and status of the first person to die of COVID-19 in the state on social media.
The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) which has been intervening at different levels in the management of the pandemic in Nigeria says that doing so is a threat to the fight against this deadly virus. Giving reason for saying so, CITAD said in a statement by Ali Sabo, its communication officer, that it could make people become skeptical to self-reporting themselves when they suspect they have been infected with virus for fear of being stigmatized and harassed.
CITAD said it observed that some people are using the name, picture and status of the first confirmed case of death from COVID-19 in Kano State on various social media platforms in a discriminatory and or negative way. This, it adds, is a clear breach of the ethics of the medical profession in relation to respect for confidentiality between medical personnel and the patient’s identify, no matter the nature of their illnesses, pointing out how the life of the patient and of his family are now being put at risk.
Arguing though that it is wrong for anyone who suspected contracting the virus or has a travel history to any place where there are confirmed cases of Covid-19 to be mingling with other people, CITAD, however, maintains that “it is also absolutely wrong for people to be victimizing and stigmatizing the victim which will set the fight against Covid-19 back in the country”. While urging people to continue to cooperate with authorities and adhere to prevention guidelines, it is also calling on the public to respect the privacy and rights of all individuals, regardless of their health status, saying that it is important for people to stop creating unnecessary panic in the society. It puts it to Governments to be more proactive in this fight and guarantee the privacy of every patient so as not to discourage people from self-reporting.
There is no knowing what impact the position of CITAD will have on the unresolved Benue State case where many people are grumbling about the exposure of the identity of Mrs Okpeh (whose status is still contested) but along individual heroism and a hint of ethno-cultural anger, without any NGO or a civil society organisation with national clout making a cogent argument. What CITAD has not said in its statement is whether confidentiality is sacred in spite of context, context being the argument of the Benue State governor, Dr Samuel Ortom for announcing that Mrs Okpeh, had become the index case three weeks ago. Mrs Okpeh is still protesting that. There seems to be no similar stories from around the country towards a comparative sense.