Ignorance, poor infrastructure makes rural Bihar more vulnerable to Covid-19
- Rural lifestyle is not to be blamed alone for the situation; the creaking healthcare infrastructure too has a big role to play in precipitating the crisis, say health experts.
Babban Singh (62) is confined in a room at his home for the last 20 days after testing positive for Covid-19. Singh, a farmer under Hardiya panchayat of Bihar’s Samastipur district, travelled 50kms from his Singhia block residence to a Darbhanga private lab for the Covid test. He did it on the advice of his son, who lives in Mumbai.
“I had a fever for 6-7 days, but for the last 7-8 days there is no fever, though there is a lot of weakness. I also got in touch with a doctor in Patna and took the prescribed medicines, including injections. I also got my wife tested, but fortunately, she was negative. Now I will again go to Darbhanga, 50 kms from Hardiya, for tests,” he said.
But there are not many like Babban Singh in rural Bihar. Most ignore apparent Covid symptoms and act foolishly brave, still not ready to accept the fatal consequences of Covid infection. “People cough and sneeze, but they carry on, treating it as seasonal flu... A couple of weeks ago, some officials came for testing after some villagers fell ill and detected positive cases in Bangrahtta, Hardiya, Sumaha and adjoining places. The infection seems to be spreading, but we don’t know to what extent,” said Singh.
Similar reports from other districts too, suggest the rural population is mostly either ignorant or complacent apart from nurturing a false sense of immunity.
Dr Vikas R Keshri, currently a senior research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health in New Delhi, says the challenge posed by the pandemic is much bigger for rural areas in states like Bihar due to a number of factors, viz. high population density, limited healthcare, false sense of immunity, ignorant beliefs such as Covid-19 being a high society and urban phenomenon, apart from exposure to migrant natives arriving from the urban hotspots of the disease.
“After the first wave, people got complacent and so did the authorities. When the second wave struck, all were caught off-guard. I fear that the government’s continued claims of a drop in the test positivity rate may prove counterproductive by instilling a sense of complacency while the real magnitude of the infection is still not known and will be difficult to even assess due to harsh ground realities. Rural societies are very close knit and even in pandemic times, they continue to perform social customs, attend social functions and puja etc.,” he said.
Reports from rural areas point to large gatherings for marriages, thread ceremonies, last rites and other social occasions being held, despite the restrictions imposed. Masadha village in Bhojpur has seen a number of deaths in the last one month. “So far, only four deaths have been confirmed due to Covid-19, but the actual number may be much higher,” said former deputy mukhiya Satyendra Singh.
Another report from Ghoswar village in Vaishali district said villagers were concerned following 17 deaths in 25 days and several others suffering from unknown ailments.
Rural lifestyle is not to be blamed alone for the situation; the creaking healthcare infrastructure too has a big role to play in precipitating the crisis, say health experts.
Dr Anil Kumar, an assistant professor with the department of history in Delhi university’s Rajdhani College, recently drew the attention of Madhubani district magistrate towards the lack of basic health facilities at Kanhauli (Khajauli)-- his native village. “There is just one health centre for more than 8,000 people but it is not functioning even in the midst of pandemic. Villagers are suffering and dying in the absence of health facilities. One doctor on alternate days or at least on a weekly basis will immensely help,” he wrote to the DM after one person died with Covid symptoms but without a test report to confirm. The DM has assured him to look into the request.
In absence of formal healthcare set up, people are forced to rely on ‘jhola chap’ doctors or quacks due to their accessibility and affordability.
Under the National Health Mission (NHM), Primary Health Centre (PHC) is established to cover a population of 30,000 in rural areas and 20,000 in hilly, tribal and desert areas. Then there are other smaller health centres, but how many of them are actually able to meet the challenge is a big question. The Patna high court has also sought details of the situation in the rural areas.