On World Health Day, a Gaon Connection ground report from Lakhimpur district in rural Uttar Pradesh reveals that villagers here believe COVID-19 is a city-disease. Rural community health centres, who are given a daily target of administering 1,000 vaccine doses, are unable to meet their target.
Community health centre in Bijuwa, Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Mohit Shukla
Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh
It is a hot day and people stand or hunker down under the shade of trees growing around the Bijuwa Community Health Centre, in Uttar Pradesh’s largest district, Lakhimpur Kheri, about 130 kilometres north of the state capital, Lucknow. While it is a centre where COVID-19 vaccines are being administered, few of those present there have come there to be vaccinated.
On World Health Day, health workers at the Bijuwa community centre wait, without much hope, for people to come and get vaccinated. People are there, but not for the vaccine. They have come to be treated for other ailments. No one is wearing a mask and neither is there evidence of any physical distancing or sanitising amongst them.
“Most of the villagers here believe that COVID-19 is a disease of the city and they are in no danger of contracting it,” Amit Singh, Chief Medical Officer, Bijuwa Community Health Centre, told Gaon Connection.
While community centres have been given a target of administering about 1,000 COVID vaccines per day, only 200-250 vaccinations are being administered, said an official from the district’s health department. There are 15 blocks in the district and every block has been assigned a certain target. “For the month of April, the district has been given a target of vaccinating seventeen lakh people above the age of forty five years. We get people in this age group vaccinated in OPD every day,” he said.
However, not even a third of this target is being met.
There is a lack of awareness in the villages, reiterated the official despite ASHA workers going door to door campaigning. There are 46 villages in this belt located in the forested areas close to the India-Nepal border and their inhabitants are mostly from the Tharu tribal community.
Nearly 60 kms away from the Bijuwa Community Centre is Surma village in Palia block. Surma lies three kms off the main road inside a forest. There, 65-year-old Ghumma, from the Tharu tribe takes her afternoon siesta, unfazed by all the brouhaha over COVID-19 and the vaccine.
“Where is the vaccination happening? I am not aware of it yet. Corona is a disease of the urban people, how will it spread in the forests,” she asked Gaon Connection.
Ghumma is unimpressed when she is informed that official figures suggest that half of the new COVID-19 cases in Uttar Pradesh are now being reported from its rural areas.
More than 100,000 COVID-19 cases were registered on a single day on April 7 in India. Uttar Pradesh is one of the eight states in the country including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Kerala, that constitute 81 per cent of the new cases.
“When no one here has been ever tested for it (COVID-19), how could be it that so many cases have come up? No one has been vaccinated here yet as nobody is even aware of any such vaccination drive taking place,” Ghumma insisted.
So far, 87 million people in the country have been administered the vaccine but it is yet to pick up pace in rural India where set targets are not being met.
“People above the age of forty five have started getting the COVID-19 vaccine from April 1,” Singh informed Gaon Connection. Vaccinations were being given at three other primary health centres besides this community centre and ASHA workers were going door to door to sensitise people about the benefits of getting vaccinated, the chief medical officer added.
However, it has been a struggle to convince people such as Ghumma, who are many. “No one in the village fears corona. Out of every ten people we inform, only one or two turn up to get vaccinated and as we live in the same villages, it is difficult for us to force them to come,” an ASHA worker, on condition of anonymity, told Gaon Connection.
People are busy working on their fields and earning their livelihoods. Who will make time to come here and get vaccinated, she asked.
“I have received both the doses of the vaccine,” Dayawati Rana, a 42-year-old ASHA worker from Bijuwa, told Gaon Connection. According to her, there haven’t been any reported COVID-19 cases in the area this year. Maybe that is a reason why everyone is roaming free without any special precautions, she said.
“Last year, people used masks when they went out and washed their hands well after returning home, but not any more,” she said. “In case of a resurgence, we will yet again tell everyone to be careful,” she added.
Meanwhile, like Ghumma, 45-year-old Anita Rana, a former pradhan denies her village Bhuda, is in danger of any infection. “We work very hard. We spend our days gathering produce from the forests, we cannot get this (COVID-19) disease,” she stated emphatically. She said this campaign to get villagers vaccinated was just a ruse to harass the poor people. “We don’t trust the vaccine. Even if this vaccine is provided here, I am sure no one will be willing to take the shot.”
On April 1, Amit Mohan Prasad, additional chief secretary for health, Uttar Pradesh, stated at a press conference that vaccination programmes were underway in 5,000 centres in the state.
“The vaccination is taking place free of cost at government centres while private hospitals are administering them at a fee of two hundred and fifty rupees. So far, more than eleven lakh people have received both the doses of vaccination,” Prasad stated. According to him, 99.5 per cent of those who did are expected to be safe from the corona infection. He pointed out that of those who did contract COVID-19, the symptoms were not severe.
However, Prasad cautioned, “No one should be under the illusion that this disease is limited to the cities. Our studies on the new cases of COVID-19 have shown that about half of the cases are coming from rural areas. Those who live in rural areas should get vaccinated expeditiously.”
On the one hand, health centres in rural pockets are finding it hard to meet their daily vaccination target, on the other, some state governments, such as Maharashtra and Odisha, have written to the central government saying their vaccine stocks are drying up.
Today, Rajesh Tope, the health minister of Maharashtra, the state worst affected by COVID-19, said the state has vaccine ‘stocks to last only 3 days’.
Yesterday, April 6, the Odisha government shot off a letter to the central government informing that it has nil stock of Covishield vaccine in all regional and district vaccine stores. In another three days, the entire state will be out of stock, the letter said.
However, in yesterday’s meeting with 11 states/Union Territories on vaccination review, health minister Harsh Vardhan said that “there is no vaccine shortage in any part of the country. The Centre is providing the required quantities to all States and UTs.” He assured everyone that the Centre will continually replenish the vaccine stock.