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When stigma meets crisis: reducing stigma by association during COVID-19
  1. Olga Kokshagina1,
  2. Eleonore Bridier2,
  3. Jamal Hakim2
  1. 1 EDHEC Business School, Roubaix, Hauts-de-France, France
  2. 2 Marie Stopes International Australia, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Olga Kokshagina, EDHEC Business School, Roubaix, Hauts-de-France, France; olga.kokshagina{at}

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Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) practices are important for women’s and men’s general health and well-being. Yet, some of the reproductive health services, such as abortion providers like Marie Stopes Australia (MSA), still experience stigma by association.

In this commentary, we show how an organisational response to crisis caused by COVID-19 turned out to be an opportunity to mitigate stigma. In particular, we explore how MSA established a Crisis Management Team (CMT) during the COVID-19 pandemic. CMT’s main role was to regularly update and manage how MSA addressed the risks associated with COVID-19. We show that it was CMT that triggered organisational change by building regular high-quality reciprocal relationships contributing to developing a sense of purpose and cohesion within the organisation. We argue that at the ecosystem level, an increased collaboration across the healthcare sector led to the recognition of the importance of services provided by other stakeholders—ultimately helping to challenge some expressions of stigma they previously faced. We develop the core idea of this commentary by drawing on a collaborative dialogue between a researcher and two members of the CMT as well as analysis of the documents that the organisation shared with the researcher.

In the following, we describe several internal and external changes such as constantly adjusting the way the services are provided in collaboration with other healthcare providers and suppliers; a transparent and frequent communication internally and externally and discuss how these changes helped to mitigate stigma by association in a way that was not anticipated.

Family planning service providers: stigma by association

Stigma is a well-known global barrier to health-seeking behaviour, engagement in care, adherence to treatment across a range of health conditions and workforce participation in certain health sectors. Goffman notes that stigma enables varieties of discrimination that ultimately deny the individual or group full social acceptance, reduce the individual’s opportunities and …

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  • Contributors All authors substantially contributed to the conception of this work, drafting, proofreading and preparing this manuscript for the review. The data was collected and analysed by OK who also led the work on the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.