Lack of infrastructure, limited awareness, mass gathering and vaccine hesitancy have greatly contributed to the rising Covid infections and deaths, says the Population Foundation of India
The second COVID-19 wave has torn through India’s rural hinterland, where health infrastructure is woefully inadequate. According to data compiled by How India Lives in April 2021, rural areas contributed close to half (44.1 per cent) of all new cases in the country, compared to 40.8 per cent in urban areas. In the first four days of May alone, rural India’s contributed 1.39 times the number of new cases as urban areas. India’s vaccination campaign, which has covered less than two per cent of the population so far, has not reached many who need it most.
Population Foundation of India (PFI) has been working with partners at the community level to ensure a rapid rural community response to COVID-19. Public health expert and executive director of Population Foundation of India, Poonam Muttreja says, “Our findings from the ground reveal that a lack of infrastructure, limited awareness, mass gathering and vaccine hesitancy have greatly contributed to the rapid spread of infection and rise in the numbers of deaths. Going forward, the following steps must be stringently implemented by the government to combat this devastating surge.”
- Develop decentralised strategies at the state and district levels to allow authorities to respond quickly to localised issues.
- Adopt effective social and behaviour change communication to address vaccine hesitancy, promote COVID appropriate behaviour and support medical professionals.
- Ensure adequate supply for COVID facilities, including information on oxygen supply, PPE, medicines, test kits, ambulances.
- Procure vaccines for the entire country to remove fragmentation in procurement, optimise prices and ensure equity across states and socio-economic sections of the population.
- Temporarily waive Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) amendment bill 2020, which has impacted several NGOs involved in COVID-19 relief work.
- Ensure greater transparency in data collection and modelling for COVID-19 to improve planning of resources required to meet needs.
- Minimise disruptions in critical non-COVID-19 related essential health services
These recommendations come on the back of a recent editorial in The Lancet which highlighted that without dramatic measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, India could witness a staggering one million deaths due to the virus by August 1, based on estimates by University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The authors underscore the need for rationalising India’s “botched vaccination campaign” while curbing the spread of infection and the need for increased government transparency in reporting COVID-19 cases.
The Lancet article says that, besides increasing supply, India must ensure equitable vaccine distribution in rural India, which comprises 65 per cent of our population. The key recommendations by authors focus on preventing the widespread transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In order to ensure this process is evidence based, genome sequencing should be employed to track cases and analyse data. Sharing accurate, timely data and information with the public, forthrightly and transparently, should be prioritised. The Central Government has a critical role in promoting COVID appropriate behaviours, testing and quarantining, and halting mass gatherings via large-scare awareness campaigns.