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Monday, December 06, 2021

India’s Vaccinators, Gujarat: ‘We have gone through a grind, now it feels we are winning’

Chhota Udepur has so far seen 77.53 per cent of first dose vaccinations and 97.75 per cent second doses. Of these, the district has administered first doses to 6.35 lakh population over 18 years of age out of a target of 8.19 lakhs.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara |
Updated: October 23, 2021 8:54:48 pm
Saraswati says that the team has administered 5,900 first doses of the vaccine to the population in the region, as against a target of 6,200 in 20 tribal villages under Dugdha PHC and Bara PHC. (Express Photo)

Saraswati Parmar, 27, Chhota Udepur, Gujarat

Saraswati Parmar’s day starts at 6 am. The 27-year-old health worker of Dugdha Primary Health Care Centre of Naswadi taluka of the tribal district Chhota Udepur sets out to cover approximately 17-kilometre distance to reach remote villages in her jurisdiction and start the Covid-19 vaccination camp at 8 am.

Saraswati is accompanied by a male supervisor and two other colleagues, who also help with the vaccinations. They park their vehicle on a winding path leading to the mountainous terrain, where the population in scattered villages — some located at a distance of over two kilometres from each other — has to be administered the Covid-19 vaccinations.

Wearing a pair of slip-resistant floaters and sports shoes to make through the non-motorable winding hilly terrain — a large part of which was washed out during the heavy rains, the team treks close to six kilometres every day to complete one of the most unenviable tasks handed out to the PHC health workers.

The team wading through flood waters. (Express photo)

Saraswati, who soon is completing five years as a PHC staff in Naswadi taluka, says, “In the initial days, it would be so exasperating to go all the way to meet a group of hesitant villagers, who would question us about the safety of the vaccines. The tribal population has an inherent mindset against medical science and more than the difficulty to climb to get to the villages, it was convincing them, which was tougher. When the first set of ten persons took the vaccine, the villagers waited a couple of days to decide that they would also take the shots as the first batch had survived it. We would also have an ambulance parked until where the roads were motorable, just in case…”

From May until July, the team stayed put at the Dugdha PHC Centre to ensure that the drive went on unhindered. “We had to hold the drive from 8 am to 5 pm and needed two hours to travel the distance because of the terrain. So, we did not go back home for two months. I left my seven-year-old daughter at my mother’s place so that I could continue with the vaccination drive without worrying about her,” says Saraswati, who has administered over 300 vaccination shots so far.

With heavy rains washing away village roads in July and August, the team also had to wade through mini mountainous floods.

She says, “The toughest part was the monsoon in July and August. The pathways were washed away, as usual, and it was like climbing against a flowing stream, carrying the icebox containing the vials. But now it is easier as most people are willingly coming forward for the second dose. I have administered over 3,000 vaccines alone.”

Saraswati says that the team has administered 5,900 first doses of the vaccine to the population in the region, as against a target of 6,200 in 20 tribal villages under Dugdha PHC and Bara PHC.

Since most of the remote villages also face issues of mobile networks and have almost no internet connectivity, the vaccinators also complete the formalities of certificate generation after returning to the base PHC.

Saraswati says, “We prepare a list of names of beneficiaries that we register for the next day’s camp. We enter the details of the vaccination by hand and when we return to the PHC, we update the vaccination data and generate certificates. The next day, we return to the villages with print copies of the vaccination certificates that are handed out to villagers. They can, of course, access their profile and retrieve a soft copy of their certificates when they connect to the internet.”

Speaking about the landmark 1 billion vaccinations administered in India, Saraswati, who has so far personally been unaffected by the virus, says, “We (health workers) have gone through a grind since the outbreak of Covid19, spending so much time living away from our families… It feels like we are slowly winning over the virus and it is humbling and overwhelming at the same time…”

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Chhota Udepur has so far seen 77.53 per cent of first dose vaccinations and 97.75 per cent second doses. Of these, the district has administered first doses to 6.35 lakh population over 18 years of age out of a target of 8.19 lakhs. Naswadi taluka has, so far, recorded a 69.2 per cent first dose vaccination due to the geographical and logistical challenges faced in reaching the population as well as the inertia among the tribal community.

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