Recently, a heart-wrenching video from Jahanabad district of Bihar surfaced in which a mother was seen walking with the dead body of her three-year-old son and crying on her fate. The child, belonging to a village, died because there was no ambulance to take him to the hospital of Patna which was 48 km away. The whole world is waging a war against the coronavirus pandemic, but what about the areas that still struggle to find an ambulance to reach an affordable healthcare centre? COVID in rural India is a reality but what’s entirely missing are support systems to deal with it.
The major cites of the country are bent at building ventilators, extra beds and even a COVID-19 special hospital. While people in small towns are still struggling to get basic healthcare facilities. How then will they survive the pandemic?
Even I experienced this scarcity of healthcare services amidst the lockdown personally. My 20-year-old sister attracted chickenpox and it got worse with the passing days. Just two days before, her health deteriorated. It was already past midnight and we felt the urgent need of seeing a doctor. But due to the lockdown, all the clinics stood shut at that hour of the night. We had two options in hand, first to either knock at the door of the doctor whom we knew closely until he wakes up, or else, head to the hospital 10km away from the town and where COVID-19 patients are being treated. We failed waking up the doctor but thankfully, my sister managed after drinking a bottle of glucose.
But, what if she didn’t feel okay? What if we had to go to the COVID special hospital and be denied any treatment or, at worst, get infected by COVID-19? The fact that we had to wait till morning (not before 10 am) to see the doctor for non-COVID health emergency, how long will a COVID-19 patient have to wait?
To get an idea about how the people in rural areas are surviving the lockdown amidst the lack of facilities, SheThePeople spoke to people living in towns across India.
Lack Of Healthcare Facility
The town in Bihar where I live is 137 km away from Patna where major COVID-19 testing and treatment take place. The small clinics in my towns do not allow any patient who is suffering from fever or cold to enter the clinic. However, a hospital which is 10 km away from the town has started the sample collecting but the samples are sent to Patna for testing which further delays the treatment. This has created a scare amongst us that how we will manage if we get infected. Besides, how will we go about the non-COVID health emergencies if the symptoms are similar to COVID-19 and there are no doctors attending patients due to lockdown?
We are all terrified on the videos of how badly the quarantine centres have been maintained, lack of food, open defecation, dogs feeding at the corpses outside the hospital, COVID-19 patients being turned back by the hospitals due to the lack of beds and doctor and so on. Even though the death rate is low and the recovery rate is increasing every day in India, for people in rural areas, being infected still means being on death bed. Adeem Tangu, from Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh said, “Small towns like mine doesn’t even have a single ICU. Luckily we don’t have any positive cases here.” While many others in rural areas are conflicted or have no clue about what should be done or where will they be taken if they have symptoms. All they wish for is that they don’t get infected.
Lack Of Awareness Of Social Distancing
Despite the fact that the government has been imposing laws and curfews to lock people inside their homes, the sabzi mandis, chicken and meat shops see the same crowd every day. People easily bribe the policemen on duty and continue to sell things despite the ban. Maids still come and go. And there’s no one to stop them. “I live in a private area where there is no government police patrolling. So people freely walk on the road as if there is no lockdown for us; I do not see social distancing either. And since we also have to get vegetables from the same road, even though we follow social distancing, we are prone to the virus,” said Radhika* living in a town in Bihar.
Similarly, Mohammad Tauseef living in Mau, a town in Uttar Pradesh, said, “Here people follow social distancing and lockdown rules only until the police is out there patrolling with their lathi. As soon as they are gone, people are out on the streets.” Focussing on the lack of awareness among people, Pankaj Kumar, a shop owner and an aspiring entrepreneur in my town in Bihar, said, “The healthcare system is not good at all. We have to rely on police patrolling and precautions. Yet, there is a need that the authorities educate people about the pandemic situation, social distancing and precautions to be taken.”
While other towns in India are handling the situation in a better way. Aware of the fact that the treatment is not possible in the town, the residents are actively practising social distancing norms. Adeem Tangu from Pasighat said, “The police are doing what they are supposed to do, but on the top of that, the citizens are also doing their bit by setting up checkpoints at the entrance of each village. There are always some people who stay to watch over who and why is anyone stepping out of homes.”
Lockdown And Poverty
More than half of the population in my town is that of the daily wagers and the lockdown has been the worst for them. There is a fear that even before the virus kills people, they will starve to death. “How are we going to earn, and feed our children if we cannot go to the kothis? Though the government has prepared relief packages and cash, it is difficult to get hold of them. Besides, how long can we survive on it?” said a housemaid Kamla*. The situation of the pandemic and the financial crisis is likely to worsen as the migrant workers from across the country are returning to their villages and towns.
It is appreciable that the government is doing its best to provide the facilities. But in this pandemic situation, there is a need to accelerate the efforts so that no more lives are lost just because there were no doctors, ambulances or awareness about the disease.
*The names have been changed on request.