On May 8, while virtually addressing a ceremony on Panchayati Raj Diwas, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the second wave of Covid-19 hitting our country is a bigger challenge compared to last year and called for all efforts to ensure that the disease does not hit villages by any means. He exuded confidence that if the country is to come up victorious in this fight against coronavirus, then “it is going to be India’s villages and their leadership and the people of the villages will show the way to the country and the world”.
However, going by the different news reports in the last couple of days, it is clear that unlike the first wave of 2020, in which Rural India has by and large remained unaffected, this time coronavirus is spreading to rural areas at a pace that no one expected. Its surge is overwhelming and deadly and caught the unprepared and underprepared health infrastructure and administration by complete surprise.
Going by the reports, villages in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and rural Maharashtra witnessed a surge in cases in the second wave like never before. In fact, in Maharashtra, it is witnessed that rural areas are contributing more cases to the tally as compared to urban areas. So, coronavirus is no more an urban phenomenon, it is a global phenomenon and will hit every part of the country, be it urban or rural, if we do not take steps to guard our villages and prepare for the worst as early as possible.
But the question is, have we really equipped our villages with the basic infrastructures to deal with this infectious disease? I hope and pray our Hon’ble Prime Minister has a national plan on how our villages and their leaderships will fight this disease in the days to come.
Now, coming to my very own state of Meghalaya with a population of about 3 million and a transit route to our neighbouring states, we have seen a considerable surge in the number of positive cases detected since April 19, 2021, and the tally keeps going up and now we are almost touching the daily figures of 400 cases with the fatality rate in a single day crossing double figures for the first time on May 8 and total fatality due to Covid reaching the 200-mark and the total active cases reaching 2,600 plus.
For a small state like ours, such numbers are worrisome and frightening. At the initial stages of the second wave, it was seen that East Khasi Hills, more specifically Shillong city, recorded high number of positive cases daily as compared to other districts in the state. However, this trend is changing and other districts like Ri Bhoi, West Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills are also showing an increase in the number of positive cases detected daily and adding more to the tally of active cases in the state.
As stated earlier, now corona has penetrated our villages’ walls. In fact, in 2020, villages in Meghalaya have not been impacted by the disease but during this time, it has reached the far-flung rural areas. For instance, just two days ago, one locality in Majai, under Shella C&RD Block, and Khweng in Umroi constituency, recorded 34 and 37 positive cases, respectively, during random testings done by health officials on request by the village authorities. Cases have been reported from villages like Jongksha and Shella as of today.
If testing is to be done in all villages in the state, the number of positive cases will cross all limits of expectations, I am certain of that. But that is not the purpose of this write-up. The objective is to make sure that our villages and their leadership are equipped to fight this virus and minimise the fatality rate as far as possible. We cannot concentrate and put up all our resources to fight this “unseen enemy” only in Shillong and the urban area as well as semi urban areas of the state. The health infrastructures and the manpower dedicated to fight Covid in Shillong is reaching its limits and we have to find ways to unburden our warriors and fighters in the capital city and take the fight to our villages making use of the facilities already in existence and to create a few more with the help of our grassroots institutions like the Dorbar Shnongs.
Though the state government has announced various steps to curb the spread by declaring containment zones and even imposing a complete lockdown in East Khasi Hills and a weekend lockdown in other districts of the state, there is no respite from the fact that the numbers kept increasing by the day. Going by the forecast by experts and health officials, the curve is expected to grow till the end of this month or more. In that case, do our hospitals and health infrastructure in the capital city have the means to accommodate all active cases in the days to come? If the containment and lockdown do not reduce the spike in cases, what should be our response to such a situation and how do we move forward? Each and every life is precious and we all should work together towards saving one and all from this dreaded disease.
Now is not the time to engage in petty politics. It is not the time to point fingers at those in power on what they have done or did not do to better prepare ourselves or from being over confident and complacent. Now is the time to come together and help our state out of this situation with little fatality as far as possible. We need all hands on the deck if we are to come out of this fight victorious. The state government, the elected representatives and our grassroots institutions have to come together and fight collectively and most importantly with a clear plan ahead.
With the surge in active cases and the upward spikes, it is feared that the existing Covid designated wards and beds in the hospitals in Shillong city will be fully occupied in the next couple of days. This is also of the fact that all Covid patients of Categories C & D are being brought to the hospitals in Shillong for treatment. Now, with the cases surging from all parts of the state, it cannot be expected that only hospitals in Shillong will be mandated with the treatment of Covid cases.
Government hospitals in other districts like Civil Hospitals in Nongstoin, Mairang, Nongpoh, Jowai, Williamnagar, Tura, Baghmara, Ampati amd Khliehriat as well as MCH Hospitals in Panaliar and Tura should be activated to treat Covid patients from the respective districts. District or Civil Hospitals are supposed to be staffed with medical officers, physicians, surgeons and other specialist, nurses and paramedical personnel and has facilities for keeping indoor patients as well as patients requiring intensive care.
All these district hospitals should have designated beds and wards for Covid patients as well as equipped with life-saving medicines, oxygen cylinders and ventilators. It is also called upon the state government that the 110 functioning PHCs and 30 CHCs in the state be activated to accommodate and monitor patients falling under Categories A & B, in their respective jurisdictions, if the surge in rural areas is to be stopped, as home isolation is not a viable and practical solution in villages.
During the first wave in 2020, our grassroots institutions played a vital and commendable role in checking the spread of the virus in our villages. Almost every village that required its residents to be put in isolation or quarantine had set community quarantine centres, and in fact, have run them with little or no help from the government for almost 2 to 3 months. Running and managing a community quarantine centre in localities or villages is not an easy task and involves financial resources and manpower. And with our Dorbars mostly depending on contributions of the residents to carry out any programme and without any funding from the government or the district councils, it is understandable that some Dorbar Shnongs have expressed their inability to accept the government’s call for setting up of such centres once again. Therefore, the government should find a solution towards this problem. It should quickly find a way to assist the Dorbars in setting up the centres in their localities and villages.
The state government should convene a meeting of all the MLAs of the state to discuss and deliberate on the way forward to save our state from this infectious disease. Although, last year the Speaker of the Assembly along with the MLAs have taken a decision to contribute 10% of their salary towards the fight against the virus, which is commendable but this time around the fight is fiercer and requires a lot of resources, especially financially. Therefore, the government should take more pro-active steps to cut down salaries of ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats by 30% for a year towards a special fund for fighting Covid-19.
The MLA scheme for 2021-2022 should be deducted by 50% and this money may be used towards setting up of community quarantine centres, buying ventilators and vaccines, keeping a buffer stock of oxygen cylinders, activating and equipping the PHCs, CHCs and district hospitals. The ADCs should also pitch in with whatever resources they have within their power to assist the state government and the grassroots institutions. Our MPs should also come forward to pledge their support and financially contribute.
Lastly, we need all of us to follow the guidelines and protocols of the government to the dot and as far as possible to stay inside and not wander around unnecessarily. I understand not all of us will have the luxury of staying put for the next few days but understand this, “if you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen”. So, stay home, stay safe and stay alive. God bless us all and we will come up victorious in this fight, together.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)