The fourth episode of second season of DEF Dialogue happened in conversation with Suresh, Ramgarh district of Jharkhand. As of June 09 2021, according to the state health department, there are 5,686 active coronavirus cases in the state. The cumulative recoveries have mounted to 3,30,478 while the death toll has reached 5,054. Suresh who has been involved with Digital empowerment Foundation since 2014 as a district coordinator explains the situation of COVID-19 in this episode of DEF Dialogue. Apart from Ramgarh, he also covers other two districts namely – Ranchi and Bokaro. He has been working with women, youngsters, handicapped, i.e. mainly those populations that are cut from the mainstream society, aiming to equip them with digital skills for them to utilise it and earn livelihoods and feed their families. Women are trained to become entrepreneurs, who further provide digital and government services to the villagers.
Impact of second wave of COVID-19
Like every part of India, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating in Ramgarh too. The second wave, especially, has caused immense havoc with the death rate being quite high. Suresh tells, “there are deaths either every day or one in two days. In total at least 12-15 people have died in my village”.
But despite all this Suresh points towards a paradox; he says that during the first wave of COVID-19 people were not sensitive towards the pandemic and now, despite a high death rate, people are not coming forward to get themselves tested for the COVID-19. He adds that there is a dearth of awareness among people. March and June are the months when the maximum number of marriages take place and precisely why there were a lot of marriages in the remote areas, especially. Suresh explains, “marriages mean gatherings and movement of people and this is how COVID is also spreading because a person at times doesn’t realise that they are positive and, when they become a part of such gatherings, they unknowingly spread the virus to others”.
If one talks of health infrastructure, Medicines are not available in the centres and the reason for this is simply quoted as ‘general shortage of medicines. Suresh emphasised on the Rural medical centres (RMC) in the villages and how these camps have maintained the situation a lot under control as they are treating and helping villagers with mild covid-19 symptoms and other non-COVID diseases too. He further says that there are no doctors as such in his area and these limited number of doctors only cater in the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and they only treat COVID-19 patients.
He explains that people in the village, including himself, have taken the RMCs for granted, but this COVID pandemic situation has made them realise the importance of RMCs as these camps have actually saved a lot of lives because the doctors have shut their private clinics and villagers have nowhere to go but RMCs.
According to Suresh, the nearest hospital is about 3 kilometres away and it has a meagre 30 beds. But unfortunately, it has not been turned into a COVID-19 hospital. Patients are often taken to different hospitals and isolation centres based in the main Ramgarh area.
Role of administration
Administration is trying to do their best but ultimately it is with people to restrict themselves from shopping or attending/organising marriages or any gatherings. But he also adds that at times, despite government restrictions over the number of attendees, local administration is found unbothered as they do not often check these numbers, sanitisation facilities and temperature checks. Similarly, last year, when administration was notified of a positive patient, they were immediately taken to the isolation centres and houses used to be sealed but this time no such steps are taken.
Misinformation around vaccines
“We have been creating as much awareness as possible around the vaccines. We try to explain them with metaphors like ‘vaccine is like a helmet. The way a helmet saves you from accidents, similarly even when you get corona, you won’t die’. It will boost one’s immunity and everybody should take”, said Suresh. He has also been explaining people about the vaccines by quoting previous vaccines’ examples. He said, “we have explained to people that fever post-vaccine is normal, just like a toddler gets mild fever after BCG injections/vaccines”.
He concludes by saying that the way things are volatile and sensitive, his role as DEF digital centre’ district coordinator of Ramgarh gets only important as no matter what, people must be made aware of the pandemic and vaccines. In these ways, we are trying to spread awareness by calling people, via WhatsApp and even door-to-door campaigning. He said, “vaccination awareness must be our priority, lest it will be more dreadful”.