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Odisha health workers undertake long treks without connectivity to screen, vaccinate vulnerable tribal groups

Thirteen of the 62 tribal groups with a total population of 2.9 lakh in Odisha have been identified vulnerable. So far, 153 members of the PVTGs have tested positive for Covid-19, of which 92 have recovered with no deaths.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: June 15, 2021 8:47:09 pm
Door to door survey and vaccination underway at Hundizali village for members of the Dongria Kondh PVTGs. (Express Photo)

It takes a five-hour trek covering nine kilometres through a hill, jungle and stream to reach Khambesi village in Odisha’s Rayagada district. The village is inhabited by people of the Dongria Kondh tribe, one of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG), who are now being specially monitored after a rise in Covid-19 cases amongst them.

This Saturday, a five-member team of the health department went from Serkapadi in Niyamgiri to Khambesi to conduct a door-to-door survey and distribute masks and sanitisers.

“There is no connectivity in these villages. Trekking through hills and forests and walking on foot is the only way to reach them. It took us nearly five hours to reach Khambesi. An uphill trek is difficult, especially in the scorching heat. There is another village almost two kilometres uphill from Khambesi – Jharpa. We covered the two villages together,” Prakash Karasika (32), a community resource person (CRP) part of the five-member team, said. He was accompanied by another CRP, an Asha worker and two Anganwadi workers.

A health team on its way to Khambesi in Rayagada district for door to door active surveillance, distribution of masks and awareness on Covid-appropriate behaviour. (Express Photo)

Thirteen of the 62 tribal groups with a total population of 2.9 lakh in Odisha have been identified as PVTGs and given special protection because of their dwindling numbers. So far, 153 members of the PVTGs have tested positive for Covid-19, of which 92 have recovered with no deaths.

For the past two weeks, members of these communities have been vaccinated on priority after on-spot registration.

Door-to-door survey and vaccination underway at Hundizali village for members of the Dongria Kondh PVTGs. (Express Photo)

“So far, over 15,000 members from the 45+ age groups have been vaccinated. Vaccination for the 18+ age groups is yet to begin. We intend to vaccinate all the eligible PVTG population,” said P Arthanari, project director of Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP), who co-ordinate with district administrations to reach out to these villages with no road connectivity.

A health team along with members of OPELIP on their way to Hundizali village on a hilltop in Rayagada district. (Express Photo)

“The first challenge is to reach these villages and the second is to convince them to get vaccinated. We have started an awareness program in their native languages. Village headmen and local leaders are roped in to convince them,” Arthanari added.

Most vaccinations have been done in Rayagada (Dongria Kondh), Kalahandi (Lanjigarh) and Malkangiri (Bondas and Didayis). In Malkangiri, of the 37 villages inhabited by PVTGs, only 10 are motorable and the others are mostly located on hills with elevations more than 700 metres. Of these, 14 villages are in the erstwhile Maoist stronghold Swabhiman Anchal which remained disconnected from the mainland until 2020.

“The villages in Swabhiman Anchal are inhabited by Didayi tribes. These villages are located on hilltops across the reservoir making it difficult for our teams to reach them. A ten-member team had left for the area on June 5 and returned on June 12. They carried vaccines, testing kits and other items to distribute. They could contact us only once during the day. Otherwise, the area is disconnected due to lack of mobile network,” said the project manager of Didayi Development Agency Sanjay Patra.

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