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North-East rural dwellers approached quacks, not medical practitioners, to tackle Covid

By IMPRI Team 

Participating in a webinar on Rural Realities: North East Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in North-East Villages, organised by Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Utpal De, professor and former head, Department of Economics, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, Meghalaya, has said that the approach of the government in the second wave differed from the previous one. This time, he said, there was uneven imposition of lockdowns across the North-Eastern state, hampering market channels of agricultural and industrial sectors.
Sadam Minjabam, founder, Ya All, Manipur, spoke about the situation prevailing in Manipur in the middle of May, when the state had 7,000 active cases and only 1,800 beds for Covid care. Home isolation was proving to be a challenge as people were unable to access medicines, oximeters and oxygen cylinders. The oxygen plants commissioned in Manipur weren’t yet functional. Further, there were only four-five oxygen refill centres across the state.
He stated that costs of basic services and products such as ambulances and pulse oximeters had drastically risen, people were getting fleeced and black marketing was widely prevalent. For instance, ambulance ride for five kilometers cost Rs 5,000, while the pulse oximeters cost Rs 2,500. The state government had been unable to increase the capacity of Covid specific hospitals.
Dr Sunil Kaul, founder and managing trustee, Action Northeast Trust, Assam, said hat the number of positive cases diagnosed increased by almost 60 times in within few weeks in Assam. The positivity rate too increased from 0.3 % to 7-8% within a month.
Unlike the Kamrup metropolitan area, where cases increased 42 times, he said, the rest of Assam saw a higher increase in cases. This reflected that the rural areas bore the brunt of the pandemic in excess to urban areas. In the rural areas many people did not even believe in the existence of Covid. Many had forgotten about the pandemic by July-August last year itself.
While isolation in home and community centres was a good method of tackling Covid, this did not happen in rural areas. There was failure to empower ASHA workers and create awareness among them. Informal practitioners should have been utilized to spread awareness among the people. Material translation in local languages was another imperative to increase awareness at the ground level.
Mrinal Gohain, National Lead Person and Regional Manager (North East), Action Aid India, spoke about lack of infrastructure in the North East, said that state governments in the region had approached the pandemic in an isolated manner. There was lack of coordination between government agencies. Focus was more on urban areas. In rural areas there was absence of governance to ensure that communities dealt with the pandemic themselves.
Netaji Basumatry, regional head (North East) at the Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), stated that rural dwellers approached quacks rather than medical practitioners to treat the virus. Lack of clear communication over the curfew timings and lockdowns created confusion and panic in the public, leading to negligence of Covid appropriate protocols. 
Prof Manjit Das, professor and dean, School of Social Sciences, Bodoland University Assam, attributed the rise of Covid 19 cases in Assam to two factors: State elections and Bihu celebrations. In Assam, Kamrup metropolitan area had the highest number of cases followed by Dibrugarh district. Wide distribution of cases across the state could be linked to factors such as connectivity with outside areas, higher migrant population and difference in testing capacities between the urban and rural areas.
Tirtha Prasad Saikia, Joint Director, North East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS), Assam, Tirtha spoke on the importance of undertaking a needs-based assessment of different communities. He stated that the pandemic was creating secondary disasters such as psycho-social car, malnutrition, food insecurity and domestic violence. He said, “Enforcement of right Covid-19 protocol such as mask-wearing and appropriate behaviour were lacking in rural areas”.
Christopher Lun, Secretary, Goodwill Foundation, Aizawl, said in Mizoram, efforts made by civil society organizations such as Young Mizos Association and the Church helped government tackle the Covid crisis. Local-level task forces had been created to tackle the pandemic in both rural and urban areas. These task-forces comprised of local civil society organizations, which rooted the approach of the state in grassroots governance.
Highlighting administrative efforts specific to North East in a presentation, Protibodhi Dol, a community participant, said how Antiflip, an app, easily connected grocers with consumers in Assam’s Lakhimpur.

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