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Remoteness, poor teledensity, lack of roads add to Odisha tribals' disbelief in vaccination

By Our Representative 

Salman Patamajhi, a 30-years old youth from the Kondh tribe in Bangadi village of Kotagada block in Odisha got vaccinated last week after a month of disbelief and reluctance. He had hardly any trust in the vaccine; rather he has heard about its alleged dangerous side effects.
He could only believe it when members of a civil society organization showed their photos of vaccination and the certificate they received. This changed his mind on vaccination. The case of Limbadhar Majhi (45) of Pagerpadi village of Tumudibandha was similar.
“I learnt that many people are dying after inoculation. But once the members of the Sangathan showed us the proof through photos and vaccination certificates, I understood that using vaccines is not detrimental to our physical health. After knowing this, not only did I take the vaccine but also explained people from our community about it”, said Limbadhar.
The focus of the Odisha government has shifted to rural areas to control the spread of Corona infection.
However, there are reports of tribals being hesitant of inoculation. Amid this reluctance, the awareness drive of Jeebika Suraksha Manch, a people’s outfit of the non-profit Atmashakti Trust in Kandhamal is running an extensive campaign which runs in Kotagada and Tumudibandha block has resulted in over 700 people from the Kondh community, who constitute the largest population (around 60% of the total population) in terms of primitive tribes in these blocks, agreeing for vaccination.
Under this initiative, the team members of the health-kit intervention of the organization which works on malnutrition free project in the district have reached out to over 4,000 people in 134 villages of these two blocks in Kandhamal through wall writings, awareness posters and in-person discussion to keep people updated on Covid-19 related information.
“We have exchanged wards with the health officials of the nearest primary health centres and community health centres (PHCs and CHCs) to fix-up dates for vaccination in these areas. They have sought our help to counsel people for inoculation”, said Bhramarabara Barik, a coordinator of the Malnutrition Free Villages project.
Kandhamal comes under the green zone as per the notification issued by the Health and Family Welfare department. However, vaccine hesitancy among particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) and forest dwelling communities due to lack of information sources, remoteness and traditional beliefs has triggered a grave concern.
“Our own survey revealed that people largely depend upon Anganwadi, Asha workers and hospitals to get information on COVID-19. Remoteness, poor teledensity and lack of a proper road communication eludes them from being informed. It’s not easy to agree them for vaccination but our long-term association with the community through Sangathan building is serving as a beacon of hope”, said Ruchi Kashyap, executive trustee of the Atmashakti Trust.
“We want that these communities should have equal access to vaccines like others to keep the Coronavirus at bay”, she added.

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