As the healthcare system gets overburdened, citizens of Rajasthan are helping the state government in the fight against COVID-19. By Dr Abha Sharma
Last year, when the novel Coronavirus raged havoc in our country, many people based in metropolitan cities opted to shift their parents or vulnerable family members to their native villages. For these places were considered safer and not much affected by the pandemic. One year later, the deadly virus has crossed urban boundaries to hit the rural hinterland with a vengeance. Now staying ‘far from the city crowd’ doesn’t sound like an ideal option.
Who would like to take the risk of falling sick in a village or town given the near collapse of health infrastructure due to the rising COVID-19 cases?
Last month has seen a worrying surge in cases in rural areas of Rajasthan. Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Kota, Alwar and Bikaner are the worst hit districts in this western Indian state. The village chaupals, which witnessed elders recalling the harrowing tales of the devastating famine of 1856, now swear that this deadly virus is indeed a greater demon.
There has been a reported 15 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases in rural areas of Rajasthan during the last month. As per a rough estimate, almost 35 per cent of the total COVID-19 cases in the state are now being reported from rural areas. Referring more and more patients from villages to cities is putting additional stress on urban medical infrastructure where both government and private hospitals are already running short of beds, oxygen and other life saving equipment.
From a partial lockdown (Red Alert Self-discipline fortnight) already in place since April, the state government has now announced a “strict, complete lockdown” from May 10 for two weeks. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said at a press conference, “The decision to impose strict lockdown has been taken due to the rising COVID-19 cases in rural areas, increasing instances of youth getting infected and the overall worrying surge in number of COVID-19 deaths.” To break the chain, gatherings must be stopped, he added.
No more work on MGNREGA sites while the construction material shops too will remain shut, except for some industrial units. In addition, a total ban on Band-Baja-Baraat and a cap of 11 persons, if any weddings are to be solemnized. Akha Teej or Akshya Tritiya, one of the most auspicious days for holding weddings across Rajasthan, will not witness any community weddings this season.
During last year’s lockdown there were unfortunate instances of assaults on frontline health workers and some migrants losing lives while walking long miles to get back home. The focus last year was on distributing food, ration supplies or masks and sanitizers. That scenario has completely changed this year, where there is a greater demand for health services. That’s why several volunteer groups are trying to help people through helplines and social media.
Public representatives, government officials and philanthropists are also donating funds to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to help fight the crisis. Help is pouring in from MPLAD/MLA funds to facilitate purchase of oxygen cylinders, concentrators, PPE kits, N-95 masks, sanitizers and other lifesaving equipment.
While some organisations have come up with complimentary telemedicine services, some others have decided to provide oxygen concentrators/plants. “Given the shortage of oxygen, we have decided to donate at least 10 oxygen concentrators to help patients, who are in queue for a hospital bed with oxygen support,” said Suresh Kalani of the Jaipur based Rajesh Kalani Foundation.
There are other good Samaritans who continue catering to the needs of COVID-19 patients in home isolation, by getting them food, groceries, medicines etc. On the contrary, there is no dearth of people who don’t mind breaking the rules. Not wearing a mask, let alone properly, is a common phenomenon. Those loitering around with no justified reason are being quarantined by the police and being released only when they test negative. Such quarantine centers have been set-up in nearly all districts and sub-divisional headquarters.
Last year, the whole world awaited a vaccine as the ultimate ray of hope. We now have the vaccine and greater control over COVID-19 management, but this killer second wave has enveloped us with greater despair and gloom. It is not only more infectious but more virulent and is impacting even young people, with new mutations of the novel Coronavirus coming to the fore.
Overcome by her father’s death due to COVID-19, a daughter in Barmer district of Rajasthan jumped into the funeral pyre and is now struggling for life having sustained 70 per cent burn injuries. In another incident, afraid of infecting their only grandson, COVID-19 positive grandparents in Kota reportedly committed suicide by jumping before a train.
People with access and understanding of social media platforms are reaching out for help on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Aware and responsible citizens are helping others with verified information on hospital beds, oxygen supplies, blood plasma, and medicines. This is missing in rural areas. People are not only suffering due to lack of infrastructure but also because of lack of information. It is important that relevant information is made available and accessible to rural communities so that they can break the chain of this deadly virus.