Bengal to use quacks as first line of defence against Covid-19
The West Bengal government will use the state’s 275,000 quacks as the first line of defence against the second wave of Covid-19, which has registered a 5- 8 times jump in rural Bengal over last year’s peak. The state health department will soon issue dos and don’ts for their handling of Covid-19 patients.
“We can use this workforce. We can name them ‘Swasthya Suraksha Bondhu’ instead of calling them quacks,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said referring to the unqualified rural healthcare workers who are often consulted by villagers for minor ailments in absence of qualified doctors.
Daily count of Covid-19 cases in Bengal has shot up more than 20 times since March 27, when the eight phase state assembly elections took off. Number of positive cases in rural Bengal too have gone up significantly, triggering concerns.
“Even when the state was witnessing the peak of the first wave in October 2020, the cases in rural Bengal were under control. But now, cases have shot up almost 5 - 8 times in the districts which have more than 50% rural population,” said a senior official of the state health department.
On October 22, 2020, West Bengal reported 4,157 cases- the highest daily spike in the first surge. On that day, districts like Birbhum, Murshidabad, Hooghly and Nadia reported 82, 110, 225 and 194 cases respectively.
On Wednesday, when West Bengal reported 18,102 cases and 103 deaths, the same districts reported 722, 500, 986 and 869 cases respectively, a rise of 5 – 8 times.
These are among the districts that produce the maximum paddy in the state and have more than 60% rural population.
“We have been utilizing our ASHA workers in the fight against Covid. Now we have planned to use the quacks as they are spread in almost all villages and blocks. It is a huge work force which we want to rope in because villagers visit them regularly for treatment. The state health department is coming up with a guideline in the form of dos and don’ts for this purpose,” said the official.
They could also be given crash course training by the block and sub-divisional hospitals, if necessary, on how to handle Covid-19 patients and what to do if they come across patients whose condition was critical.
The decision was taken in a meeting held by chief minister Mamata Banerjee with the chief secretary, home secretary, health secretary and district officials to take stock of the Covid-19 scenario in the state on Wednesday.
An NGO working on capacity building of quacks said they can be utilised with proper training in areas with dearth of registered doctors.
"This is a welcome move as these rural informal health care workers are the first point of contact for more than 70% villagers. We have been working on their capacity building since 2007 and have found that they are very efficient and sincere and can be utilised with proper training in rural areas, where there is a dearth of registered doctors. We have trained some of them in three districts when the first Covid wave broke out in 2020," said Dr Partha Sarathi Mukherjee, a public health researcher and the secretary of Liver Foundation, West Bengal.
The state had earlier used ASHA workers to identify patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARI) and Influenza like Illness (ILI) in a door-to-door campaign and also to spread awareness against Covid-19.
Joydeb Halder, a quack practising in one of the islands in the Sunderbans welcomed the government’s decision and said: "The number of patients with fever and cough and cold has increased over the past few months. I don't allow anyone to enter my chamber. I hear from them about their symptoms and give them medicines. Also I tell them to visit the nearest hospital in Gosaba if the fever and cough and cold don’t go away even after taking medicines.”