With no tests and no treatment, people in rural India are dying of COVID-like symptoms

The heart-wrenching reports of people dying of COVID19 usually narrate the tragedies of the urban populations. But, rural India is not unaffected in the second wave of the COVID19 pandemic. Villagers are dying of suspected COVID-19. They are neither getting tested, nor able to access healthcare. More details here.

Mithilesh Dhar Dubey
| Updated: April 29th, 2021

Often it is sheer carelessness of the people that keeps them from getting tested. Photo: Virendra Singh

“I carried him from one hospital to another, he was my younger brother. His breathing stopped right in front of my eyes. I kept gazing at his closing eyes but couldn’t do anything to help.”

With these words, 50-year-old Ram Bahadur Mistry, a resident of Shahjadpur village in Akbarpur district of Uttar Pradesh, burst out crying and cut the call while talking to Gaon Connection.

His younger brother, 42-year-old Lal Bahadur passed away from coronavirus-like symptoms on April 23.

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An hour after disconnecting the phone call, Mistry called back and told that his brother manifested mild fever for almost a week. His health suddenly declined on April 22 and was taken to a hospital. 

“He used to complain of mild fever. This continued for a week. We got him some medicines from a doctor in the nearby market. But on April 22, he started facing difficulty in breathing,” narrated Mistry.

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“He had all the symptoms of Corona. We took him to hospitals in the town but they did not have oxygen supply. When we took him to the district hospital, the doctor told us that oxygen will be allotted to those patients who have tested positive for Corona. So we brought him back and he died the next morning on April 23,” Mistry told Gaon Connection.

Villagers queued up outside a community health centre in Bighapur of Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district. They have come here to get tested for COVID. Photo: Sumit Yadav

The helplessness felt by Mistry in his younger brother’s death is felt by a large number of rural residents who find no mention in the official records. 

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Gaon Connection talked to many such people living in villages who had similar complaints about their sick family members being denied admissions in hospitals for they did not have a corona positive test report to prove they were infected and needed the treatment.

“My father did not have Corona. All the reports were negative. But he had symptoms. Neither the government nor the private hospitals admitted him. We wandered from one hospital to another all night but he died next morning at 5 am,” Nitin Pandey, a resident of Jagapur village in Bhadohi’s Jagiganj town told Gaon Connection.

Pandey’s father, 55-year-old Prabhakar Nath Pandey, fell sick on April 19. Initially, he took some medicines from the local doctors in the village but on April 23 he experienced trouble in breathing. He also got tested for COVID19 but the report came negative.

A community health centre in Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur. Photo: By arrangement

“At first I took him to private hospitals. Then it occured to me what if the report is wrong. I also took him to the government hospital in Gyanpur and Bhadohi. I informed the doctors that he had difficulty in breathing and asked for oxygen but, nobody paid heed. They said they will only admit those who have a positive Corona report,” Pandey added.

It is not merely the villages of Uttar Pradesh that are reporting cases of patients being denied admission for want of positive COVID19 test report.

In Rajasthan’s Nagaur district’s Sujangarh block, 21-year-old Irshad Khan volunteers for providing necessary supplies to the needy in his Yashwantnagar village.

Talking about the situation at his village, Khan told Gaon Connection, “A chacha (an old man) used to live in our neighbourhood. His health deteriorated at night and had difficulty in breathing. The symptoms were all Corona-like. We took him to the district hospital, the doctors there told us that he cannot be admitted without a positive Corona test report. We brought him back and he died the next morning.” 

Why aren’t people getting tested in villages

Shailendra Singh Ghosh, a resident of Tigauda village in Madhya Pradesh’s Tikamgarh district told Gaon Connection that people were afraid of getting the test done because they believe that they will certainly contract the infection while getting tested.

“Many deaths have occurred in the nearby villages. Nobody who is symptomatic admits to having Corona or agrees to get tested. The testing centres are so crowded that people dread visiting them. It takes four to five hours to get the tests done,” Ghosh said.

Often it is sheer carelessness of the people that keeps them from getting tested.

In Prakhand Kharaundi village in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra district, Manoj Dubey has isolated himself at home after experiencing the COVID19 symptoms. 

Villagers in rural Uttar Pradesh believe COVID-19 is a city-disease. Photo: Neetu Singh

When asked about why people aren’t getting tested, he said: “People still believe that there is no such thing as Corona. People are coughing, wheezing and have fever and are still attending wedding ceremonies.”

“Also, people have zero trust in the authorities and the administration. Two people in the same household are getting tested with the same set of symptoms but one’s report comes positive, the other’s is negative. Most of the people don’t even know where to get tested,” he added.

Seema Jaiswal, who practices medicine at Lucknow’s Mayo Hospital is presently COVID19 positive and is living at her village in Kushinagar district. 

“In the nearby villages, somebody or the other dies of COVID-like symptoms. Antigen tests are not proving to be reliable and RT-PCR tests are conducted 90 kilometres away in Gorakhpur. This is the reason that people are preferring to get treated by the local doctors instead of getting tested for COVID19,” she added. 

Read this report in Hindi