COVID-19: Bihar shifts attention to rural areas as villagers hide symptoms

India migrants living in fields Bihar
The Bihar government has shifted its focus to the rural areas as COVID-19 spreads to the countryside, devastating human lives on a massive scale. Image Credit: Supplied

Patna: The Bihar government has shifted its focus to the rural areas as COVID-19 spreads to the countryside, devastating human lives on a massive scale.

The problem has turned serious with many villagers hiding their symptoms and not willing to undergo testing out of fear of “social stigma” associated with the coronavirus. Quite many villagers are even averse to taking vaccines.

The state government in Bihar has now focused its attention on handling the rural populace. In a significant step in this direction, the government has reactivated 1,454 additional primary health centres which were closed down in March after the second wave and has deployed a large contingent of health workers to identify the persons infected with COVID-19 and conduct their testing.

“We have engaged Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers to do door-to-door testing and compile data of people under home isolation in the rural areas,” Bihar’s health secretary Pratyay Amrit said. Trained rural health workers have also been engaged to take care of the COVID-19 patients in villages. There are 80,000 ASHA, 4,000 ASHA facilitators and 15,000 trained rural health workers in the state now all deployed in the rural areas.

Mobile van services

The state government has also launched mobile van services to conduct testing of the persons with coronavirus symptoms and vaccinate the villagers above 45 years. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar launched these two services on Sunday.

Currently, 700 vans have been pressed into service to vaccinate the people in the countryside. The mobile vans consisting teams of auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) and pharmacists will conduct on-the-spot registration of villagers and vaccinate the villagers in this particular age group. Another set of mobile vans are being used to conduct RT-PCR testing of the villagers to identify the COVID-19 infected persons. Each van will be conducting at least 1,000 testing per day and the reports will come within 24 hours.

In addition to that, UNICEF with help from some non-profit organizations has launched first-of-its-kind campaigns in rural pockets of six flood-prone areas to make people understand necessary safety protocols to check spread of the deadly coronavirus. As part of the campaign nicknamed “Covid par hulla bol (Attack on COVID-19)”, some 600 activists have been engaged in the campaign to create awareness about the coronavirus and how one can save oneself from it. The six districts chosen for this campaign include Supaul, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Purnia and Sitamarhi.

“Rapid transmission of COVID-19 in the rural areas is indeed a matter of serious concern. Almost 89 per cent of Bihar lives in villages. More than 46 per cent are children and adolescents who are particularly vulnerable. So it is crucial that the rural population have the tools of correct information on how to protect themselves, how to stay safe at home, how to access healthcare and other critical services in a timely manner,” UNICEF’s Bihar chief Nafisa Shafique told the media.

Daily updates

In addition to that, the state government has engaged the village council officials for tracking, isolating and providing proper medical care to the COVID-19 patients. “We are taking daily updates from village council officials about COVID-19 cases,” Bihar’s Panchayati Raj department secretary Amrit Lal Meena said. According to him, the village council officials have also been told to report entry of outsiders to the villagers while the ward committee members have been assigned the task of house-to-house visit to track any suspected coronavirus patient with the help of local administration.

Bihar has reported a total of 2,971 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 54 days only while 1,578 people had died in the past year—from March 22, 2020 to March 31 this year—in its first wave, indicating the severity of the situation. In the first wave, it was mainly the urban areas which remained largely affected but in the second wave, the virus has spread to villages, claiming many lives each day.

But what is worrying, the villages are refusing to undergo tests or get the vaccines for various kinds of rumours doing the rounds. “People are not only refusing to go for testing but even avoiding vaccinations. They say many people have died after taking vaccines and so, they are safe without vaccines,” said Shashi Kumar Suman, chief of Afzal Nagar village council in Munger district. Sarpanch of Bamhaur-Khas village council in Kaimur district Jagdish Chaudhary reported similar complaints from his areas. A ‘Sarpanch’ has limited judicial power.