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Second wave was 'disaster' for rural areas of Jharkhand, Bihar, impacted livelihood

By IMPRI Team 

A recent panel discussion focusing upon the conditions of Jharkhand and Bihar villages to share the insights and experiences of the practitioners located in their respective locations highlighted the second wave of the Covid pandemic proved to be disastrous for the interior regions of the country, where people are less aware and the health infrastructure is very weak.
Opening the conversation, Dr Nalin Bharti, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Patna, brought to light that the world pandemic of Covid-19 has deeply affected some of the critical issues of human civilization. It is well known that the first wave of the pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown had a catastrophic effect on the migrant workers and the urban poor.
But the second wave of the pandemic has proved to be different than the first wave thus adding to the previously existing problems, and also bringing up new ones. The second wave of the pandemic has by and large been disastrous to the interior regions of the country that are the villages, where people are less aware and health infrastructure is very weak, he said.
It is widely known that majority of people in India still reside in the rural areas, with the state like Bihar where 94 percent of the total population still lives in the villages. In the second wave of the pandemic which has struck the rural areas, he added.
The authorities are faced with a multitude of problems that include protecting the people from the spread of the virus and the deaths and ensure the health and employment to the people along with providing mental and economic strength to the masses in these unprecedented times, Dr Bharti asserted.
Sunidhi Aggarwal, Research Assistant at the Impact and Policy Research Institute, made a presentation containing statistics on the second wave, like the infection rate, availability of the health facilities, vaccination drives and the related challenges.

Vaccination drive

Urmila Kumari, Auxiliary Nursing Midwifery (ANM), Urban Primary Health Centre (UPHC) Edalhatu, Sadar, Ranchi, shared her experiences on the topic, making the remark that the second wave has created an atmosphere of terror in the minds of the citizens and its is important to spread awareness regarding the issues.
She said emphasis on vaccination and how and why it is essential for the people to be aware for it. With conviction she pleaded to the people to fully comply with the rules and regulations that have been directed by the government.
Smita Singh, International Health Promotion Expert and Doctoral Researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology, Patna, stated that it is important to deal with the second wave of the Covid-19 with a social and behavioural science perspective. She added, the preventive measures must be taken seriously and the need for the government to invest rightly into the cause.
In this sequence, it is also necessary to honestly assess the efforts made so far regarding Covid. So that we get to know about our failures and work in that direction by making our strategy, only then there will be some hope in this truly horrifying situation, she said.
In this context, she said that social, cultural and practical aspects will have to be discussed in detail and this disaster can be reduced to some extent by showing social and emotional support in this scene of tragedy.
In this direction, people will have to strongly improve the manner of wearing masks, timely hand hygiene, following physical distance and taking vaccination etc. and also make aware of their scientific health benefits, she added.
Therefore, on these aspects, it becomes the personal and social responsibility of all the citizens of the country to play the role of a leader by showing the spirit of cooperation, coordination and welfare from their respective level and fight this global pandemic at the grassroots level. “Fight boldly with your small but necessary efforts”, she asserted.

Comprehensive strategy

Deepika Singh Pandey (MLA, Mahagama Constituency, Jharkhand), while apprising the situation in the rural areas of her state during the second wave of COVID, confidently expressed her views on various aspects and how the government handled this disaster. A strong and comprehensive strategy has been devised to deal with it.
In this sequence, the vaccination programme for people in the age group of 18-44 years has also been officially started from May 14, 2021 in Jharkhand. Describing the ground reality of the horrific situation of this epidemic in the state, she believed, the priority of second wave was only health-related challenges, whereas in the previous wave the problem of migrant workers dominated.
At the same time, she said, how while discharging her official duties, she is well aware of the health related issues of the far eastern areas of her constituency and is also providing basic facilities there in this direction. The work of testing, medicines and vaccination etc. is being done in the public, as well as food security of the marginalized sections of the society through the public distribution system.
The MLA supported Dr Nalin stating that at this time we have to proceed with caution, but with strictness. In this context, she gave the example of the districts of East Jharkhand and told how they have set an example by resolving the issues related to migrant and food security properly and simply.
She said, the policy decisions taken at the right time by the government have been successful to some extent in mitigating the effects of this second wave of Covid. In order not to create a stampede, the government immediately did everything possible to ensure availability of beds, oxygen, medicines etc. in adequate number of hospitals.
Also, keeping in view the daily needs and employment aspects of the public, the state government first partially implemented the rule of lockdown, so that normal life is not affected. But in view of the spread of Covid, the government declared a complete lockdown across the state from May 16, 2021.
During second phase, in Jharkhand, the sudden death rate increased, adversely impacting rural areas, she said. Due to lack of clear information about the symptoms of Covid and other diseases like typhoid fever etc., confusion prevailed, and due to lack of proper treatment, the death toll also increased. The situation went out of control due to lack of proper medical treatment and home-isolation rules and awareness after being infected with Covid.
While sharing the upcoming plans, she said that the state government is fully committed that a number of medical equipment should be available in all the PHC and CHCs at the block and panchayat level, because if the rural areas people get facilities at their nearest health centres. If found, they will be able to get fast treatment and there will be no rush and chaos in the hospitals of the cities.
On the issue of rural economy, she said that as we know there are not many industries in the state. People from underprivileged sections are mainly involved in agriculture, cultivation and construction work. At the same time, the government is making tireless efforts that such people should be provided employment under MNREGA at the panchayat level in their area.
Good quality subsidised seeds are being made available to farmers so that they do not face the financial burden in the critical period of Covid. Under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), money is being transferred directly into the bank accounts of the people.
The MLA further said, there are challenges faced by her state regarding vaccination, adding, ignoring the rumours, playing the role of a vigilant and responsible citizen, are critical. There is a need to take responsibility for the safety of the society.
Referring to the IMPRI’s query, “Will giving a minimum amount of Rs 2000 per month under Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) be a good option?”, she said that the government’s goal is in the hour of this disaster is to empower people to enable them to meet their minimum needs, for which help is being provided through public distribution system and free vaccination.

Rural health system

Dr Kushwaha Shashi Bhushan Mehta, another Jharkhand MLA, said that a large part of the rural population of the state is residing in forests, for whom access to basic health facilities is a major obstacle. Describing this second wave of more frightening than the previous one, he said that earlier it was limited only in big cities, but the second wave spread badly to rural areas.
While accepting the shortcomings and constraints of the health system and other resources, etc., he emphasized the importance of vaccination and its imperative – considering it as the last protection cover. He insisted on the need to comply with all government instructions related to Covid and lockdown, and to make people aware about vaccination etc.
Highlighting the problem of untrained or petty doctors in rural areas, he said that their role and efforts are commendable in this critical situation because they are handling the rural health system to a great extent, so there is a need to give them proper training at the earliest. There is a need to empower and recognize their services and experiences.
The MLA expressed concern, citing the uncertainty of Covid, how it has badly affected the education system and pushed an entire generation on the back foot of development, which in the coming times will be a challenge for the government. Also, every activity related to human life has been hurt, including agriculture and public distribution system.
In the end, he said that if the country is to be made corona free, then it has to be strictly followed with awareness of the “vaccination campaign” as a protective shield.

Social alienation

Dr Anamika Priyadarshini, Lead Researcher (Bihar), Centre for Catalyzing Change, said that the second wave in the state was extremely frightening and said that the death figures were shocking. By February-March 2021, everyone seemed convinced that Covid would end, but the epidemic showed its fury in the second phase posing questions of earning a living in front of the migrant workers.
Migrant workers in India mainly hail from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh (37% of the country), she said, adding, compared to the first phase of Covid, social aversion was being seen to a lesser scale because the rate of infection increased suddenly. Pointing to insensitivity of the Bihar government towards filling up vacant posts of health workers, she added, the slow process of testing and vaccination was the result.
Dr Gurjit Singh (State Coordinator, Social Audit Unit, Jharkhand) while appreciating the efforts of the government, said that one of the important reasons for the second wave of Covid was the government failed to take timely steps to prevent the spread of the disease. There is, therefore, urgent need to adopt appropriate behaviour related to Covid, for which it is imperative to make citizens aware in the rural areas.
It is necessary to have collective commitment of panchayats, the administration and citizens so that the problems arising in this second wave of Corona (mental health, domestic violence, problems of orphans and employment under MNREGA etc.) can be prevented at the local level under a proper strategy.
Dr. Sharad Kumari (State Programme Manager, Action Aid Association, Bihar and Jharkhand) presented the dark side of the rural realities affected by the second wave, stating, it created a situation of confusion in front of the working class. Cases of falsification regarding food security and ration cards came to the fore.
This second wave exposed the medical system of both the states, as a result of which the hospitals in the capitals were overloaded. At the same time, even in the circumstances of the crisis, one could see prevalence of hoarding and black marketing of common and Covid-related medicines on a large scale, she said.
Expressing concern, she said, the irony of our country is that very little budget is allocated on education and health, the main factors that determine the foundation of human development. There is a lack of arrangements regarding Covid in primary health centres, due to which people have to turn to urban medical centres.
In this context, she said, the role of public representatives, civil society and people’s organizations, etc., is very important for spreading awareness about issues related to Covid and vaccination, because they would have easy access in society.

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