Dr. Sonia Abdel Azim… the COVID-19 Victim whose Village Rejected Burying, Teaching Egypt the Cruelty of Stigma

“Sonia Abdel Azim”, one of the names that stirred so many emotions during the country’s fight against the pandemic, showing that there are several fronts to battle. It is the story of the 64-year-old doctor who died from Corona and the people of her village disrupted her burial, for fears of spreading the virus.

Photo courtesy of Al Shorouk Newspaper

Doctor Sonia and her husband are originally from Shubra Al Bahw village in Al-Dakahlia governorate. According to the village’s eyewitnesses, the village’s less-privileged often resorted to the doctor’s family to help them with any financial difficulties. They were known for their generous charitable contributions like helping brides to get married, building mosques, and more.

That is why Doctor Sonia’s family was shocked when some people violated her burial. She contracted the virus from her daughter, who had just arrived from Europe, and died at Al Ismailia’s confinement hospital. When the family entered the village to head to the graves, they found a large number of people gathering to stop the procedures. Some eye witnesses even reported that people broke the ambulance’s windows, forcing the family to change route. According to eye witness reports, the negotiations between the family and the village’s people lasted for about five hours until the police interfered and allowed the protective burial procedures.

The incident touched a lot of Egyptians, who could not believe fear and lack of awareness could reach that level. In response, Mansoura governorate Prosecution ordered the arrest of 23 people who participated in violating the burial. In addition, Al-Dakahlia’s Governor Ayman Mokhtar decided to change the name of the governorate’s primary school from ‘Shubra Al Bahw’ to ’Sonia Abdel Azim’ to commemorate her memorial. Some village residents also hung banners to apologize to the family. A unit in Al Kasr Al Ainy hospital was also named after Doctor Sonia.

While the efforts to fix the situation are great, it is still crucial to examine how far lack of awareness and empathy can go. It is not just the virus that we are currently fighting, but we are in a constant battle against ignorance and stigma, which can harm people just as much.

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