Close to 90 per cent of India is witnessing a high Covid positivity rate as 640 districts out of the 734 are above the national threshold level of 5 per cent positivity rate, with cases rising sharply in the rural areas.
Underlining the need to break the chain of transmission, officials have cautioned states about the spread of the virus to tier 3 cities and villages.
Reasons of spread to rural areas
The surge of cases in rural areas is not unexpected because of following reasons-
- dense networks that exist between cities and villages,
- continuous inter-state movement,
- the return of migrants for Holi and the harvesting season and also in response to curbs in bigger cities,
- the impact of Kumbh, and in the case of UP, untimely panchayat elections,
- The pace of vaccination, the most effective way to fight the disease, is much slower than needed in rural areas.
The spread of the pandemic has been far and wide as newer states like Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland are seeing a high positivity rate and there is a need to take corrective measures to break this chain of transmission.
- The spread of epidemic in rural areas going unchecked and untraced could prolong the deadly devastation.
- The longer this lasts, the longer it will take a toll on the social-economic fabric of the society.
- Supply chain disruptions at the primary mandi level may dampen the multiplier impact of a good harvest this year following forecast of a normal monsoon, raising the speculation of high food inflation.
- The establishment of MGNREGA sites, a major intervention last year, is unlikely to be effective this year given the spread of the disease. This dims the prospects of firm demand in rural consumption.
- Plus, the ostracisation of families that have the disease could break the community support network in villages, leading to greater distress. Affected families would fall below the poverty line if a disease were to happen in the household.
Issues of Rural healthcare with respect to COVID
The first wave of COVID highlighted the Urban-Rural healthcare divide whereas the second wave has exposed the dire state rural healthcare system is presently in.
- Testing is both inadequate and unreliable.
- Hospital admissions of patients with serious symptoms (with or without a test) are hard.
- There is an acute shortage of medical supplies including PPE kits, medicines, personnel etc.
- Contact-tracing is non-existent,
- Bureaucratic red tape has made healthcare even more difficult.
- Vaccine hesitancy among poor, uneducated people.
- Also because of the digital divide, registration for vaccines on government portals is not as smooth.
- The Indian Council Of Medical Research (ICMR) has revised norms for testing with a particular focus on rural India.
- The focus should be on Rapid Antigen Tests which will help in surveillance and aid in breaking the chain of command.
- There is a need for expanding facilities for tele-consultation through more helpline numbers.
- Active participation of volunteers, civil society organizations and NGOs.
- The states should ramp up health infrastructure at the sub centre, primary health centre, and health and wellness centre levels.
- Steps should be taken to improve human resource workforce for Covid management.
- Citizens should be made aware about the need to follow Covid-appropriate behavior.
- States should focus on micro-containment zones with lockdown as an absolute last resort.
The states should prioritize three important areas: testing, containment and infrastructure. All hands need to be on deck as the battle against the coronavirus pandemic will have to be fought in the villages.
Question- COVID pandemic has laid bare the issues plaguing the rural healthcare system. Comment.