Covid-19 stigma, vaccine hesitancy slowing fight against covid-19 in rural Bihar - Hindustan Times
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Covid-19 stigma, vaccine hesitancy slowing fight against covid-19 in rural Bihar

ByPrasun K Mishra, Aditya Nath Jha, Kaimur/katihar
May 20, 2021 12:22 PM IST

Deficiency in healthcare infrastructure in Bihar's rural areas such as shortage of manpower is also obstructing the Covid containment drive.

The fight against Covid-19 in rural Bihar is getting hampered due to lack of healthcare, vaccine hesitancy, low testing and delayed results among other factors. This is worrying since nearly 67% of the 3,928 deaths reported in the state are from predominantly rural districts.

Bihar has decided to reactivate 1,451 additional primary health centres (APHCs) in rural areas. (Bloomberg)
Bihar has decided to reactivate 1,451 additional primary health centres (APHCs) in rural areas. (Bloomberg)

“Many villagers have Covid symptoms, like cold cough and fever, but only 10% have tested,” says 33-year-old Babloo Kumar Yadav of Dwasai village in Katihar district. They instead rely on quacks, he adds.

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In Ara, people claim RT-PCR test reports arrive very late, negating the very purpose of testing. Mithilesh Kumar Singh, a resident, says his wife Seema Singh got herself tested at Ara Sadar Hospital and her report came after five days. “After a few days, I too got symptoms of Covid and went for testing. My report came after 10 days,” said Singh.

Ara’s civil surgeon Dr L P Jha claims 3,500 tests are done in the district daily on an average. “In urban areas, the number of testing is 400 to 500. Rest are done in rural areas,” he said, suggesting testing was proceeding relatively smoothly in rural areas.

Officials on the ground say reluctance is the real reason why Covid tests are not going up significantly in rural areas. “We send mobile testing teams in villages but they are not interested. Due to the stigma attached to Covid, most of them hide their symptoms and avoid testing,” said Dr Pradep Kumar, posted at Dandkhora primary health centre of Katihar district.

He, however, points out that deficiency in healthcare infrastructure in rural areas such as shortage of manpower is also obstructing the Covid containment drive. “I have been working continuously for three days. If I don’t get a day off now, I will go mad. Against the sanctioned strength of seven doctors, we just have two currently,” he says.

Bihar’s additional chief secretary (health) Pratyaya Amrit said the government has decided to reactivate 1,451 additional primary health centres (APHCs) to augment medical infrastructure in rural areas.

Vaccine hesitancy among the rural folks is another major problem. Kaimur district magistrate Navdeep Shukla says a vaccination team returned empty-handed on Saturday from villages in Ramgarh after people refused vaccination calling it dangerous. The DM says they are now taking help of panchayat representatives to convince people.

“We are concentrating on rural areas and emphasis is on testing and vaccinating. For vaccination, 72% of the sites are going to be in rural pockets,” said the additional chief secretary for health.

“To increase rural testing, we are taking help of 80,000 ASHAs (accredited social health activists) who have started visiting each household with oximeters and are reporting immediately to headquarters through HIT Covid App, launched on Monday,” he added. The app is meant to ensure regular monitoring and tracking of Covid-19 patients in home isolation.

(With inputs from Prashant Ranjan, Ara)

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