Original Research - Special Collection: Mental Health

Fear of dying dirty: Intimate care encounters during COVID-19 pandemic in South African context

Simangele Shakwane
Health SA Gesondheid | Vol 28 | a2317 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hsag.v28i0.2317 | © 2023 Dr Simangele Shakwane | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 January 2023 | Published: 25 August 2023

About the author(s)

Simangele Shakwane, Department of Health Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: Physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene were encouraged during the pandemic of COVID-19. However, personal hygiene procedures for patients admitted to hospitals, such as assisted baths, oral care and elimination, were neglected.

Aim: This study aimed to describe intimate care and touch experiences for patients admitted to the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Setting: This study was conducted in the medical and surgical units of two hospitals in Gauteng province.

Methods: A generic qualitative approach was used to explore and describe the patients’ intimate care and touch experiences during the COVID-19 hard lockdown. In-patient individuals above 18 years were purposively sampled. Twelve patients aged between 28 and 60 years participated in semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Three central themes emerged from the data: (1) Keeping away from the body, (2) Who is touching my body? and (3) Fear of dying dirty - a sense of losing bodily dignity. The participants felt that the nurses were trying to avoid them, as they were seen as potential carriers of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion: The cleanliness of a patient’s body gives them a sense of self-respect and dignity. Nurses should find ways to ensure that patients receive quality intimate care and touch, even during situations such as the pandemic.

Contribution: Patients’ religious or cultural beliefs and anxieties about dying dirty should be acknowledged and respected in nursing care to provide quality bodily care for all patients.



admission; death and dying; COVID-19 pandemic; culture; religion; intimate care; patient; touch

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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