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In rural Punjab, villages oppose testing, cite poor care at govt’s Covid care facilities

From Sangrur to Patiala, Mansa to Nawanshahr, villages across districts are beginning to take a stand against Covid-19 testing alleging poor treatment at government’s Covid facilities.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | August 28, 2020 11:30:52 am
Punjab, COVID-19 Testing, CoronavirusDeputy Commissioners across districts have initiated efforts to get village sarpanches to agree to cooperate, but it is proving to be an uphill task. (File/Representational)

As the focus of Punjab’s Covid-19 battle shifts to rural areas, the state Health Department is up against an unlikely adversary – villages that refuse to be part of mass sampling drives to contain the spread. From Sangrur to Patiala, Mansa to Nawanshahr, villages across districts are beginning to take a stand against Covid-19 testing alleging poor treatment at government’s Covid facilities.

In Malerkotla (Sangrur district), mobile teams were turned back from several villages over the last two days after they went for sampling. Patiala saw Fatehgarh Chana village pass a resolution on August 24 against getting tested in case mobile health teams arrive. A similar resolution was recently by Sangrur’s Deh Kalan village. On August 22, Sangrur’s Chathha Nanhera even saw announcements being made from the village gurdwara against the testing drive.

A village in Nawanshahr, Jafarpur, has in fact sent a written request to the Deputy Commissioner saying that no testing teams should be sent to the village. The decision was taken after two Covid-19 patients from village, including the Sarpanch, died at Government Rajindra Medical College and Hospital, Patiala.

Punjab testing

The letter to DC Sheena Aggarwal claims that given the lack of proper medical care at the hospital, it is better to get treated at home. In the letter (Copy of which is available with The Indian Express) titled, “Regarding not getting Covid-19 test done”, the Gram Panchayat and all village residents have stated that a Covid-19 sampling team had come to the village on August 21, but the panchayat and the residents are against getting their tests done. It adds that it is requested not to send any health department team again to the village, saying that if anyone tests positive in the village he or she will be treated at home.

Sarabjit Jafarpur, ex- Sarpanch of the village, said that the Sarpanch of their village Capt Kehar Singh (retd) was had no health complications when he tested positive on August 15 following a Covid-19 death in village on August 9 at the Rajindra Hospital. “Same day he was referred to Rajindera Hospital in Patiala where he was declared dead at 1 pm in the night. How can a healthy person like him die within few hours….He was made to sit on chair for several hours and not even provided bed in the ward,” said Sarbjit Jafarpur, adding he was not given water or food at the hospital.

On Wednesday, a mobile team of the Health Department was turned back from village Bachhoana in Mansa’s Budhlada as it went to pick up a patient for admission to a Covid Care Centre. The family resisted as the patient was asymptomatic, and team was sent back empty handed. Patient couldn’t be shifted to CCC even on Thursday and he insisted on home isolation.

Meanwhile, farmer union BKU (Dakaunda) has announced that they will be sitting on protest against health teams visiting villages for sampling. BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, meanwhile, said that “apprehensions of villages are true”. He added that union members were taking a call on the matter at village-level only.

Farmer union leader Jasveer Singh said, “Proper arrangements should be made in CCCs so that patients can develop confidence of going to hospitals. Moreover, only areas with suspected cases should be checked, rather than doing sampling in each and every village.”
Joginder Singh, from village Kasba Bhural, said, “Patients are not dying because of coronavirus, but they are dying because of lack of water and food. Many patients share their woes as they see people getting sick inside CCCs because of lack of facilities.”

A panchayat member from village Jafarpur, Pradip Singh, added: “It is better that we get tested on our own if we notice any symptoms and get ourselves quarantined at home and treat as per the guidelines of the doctors rather than getting admitted in the hospital.”

Challenge for administration

Deputy Commissioners across districts have initiated efforts to get village sarpanches to agree to cooperate, but it is proving to be an uphill task.

To get villages to fall in line, Mansa DC Mohinder Pal has declared,”All those villages that get maximum sampling done, will have development work done there on priority.”

Taking to The Indian Express, he said: “This is a way to motivate them as mobile teams are facing problems. Moreover, villagers are not able to understand that asymptomatic patients can be carriers as well. We have now told the panchayat secretary, panchayat officers to counsel villagers. If any patient comes positive, rapid response teams will go first of all in villages and mobile teams will go later on. If there is a separate room with an attached bathroom within a village house, we will isolate the mild patient at home.”

Barnala Civil Surgeon Dr G B Singh said that the problem has travelled fast across rural areas in Punjab. “We are facing this resistance from rural areas, though a protest has not happened so far in Barnala. However, we are talking to them. They have a few apprehensions based on videos which are being circulated in the social media. ”

In Barnala, out of 517 positive patients, more than 200 have tested positive in rural areas and out of 18 deaths so far, 10 have happened in rural areas.

Bathinda DC B Srinivasan said, “We are motivating panchayats and even villagers. Basically, we are motivating people to get tests done and so they can go into home isolation if they have adequate arrangements. We hope that this will get some positive response.”

Sangrur, meanwhile, has decided to start Level 3 facility in the district to boost people’s confidence. DC Ramvir said, “We have now tied up with the local IMA unit and we will be starting a 16 bedded Level 3 facility in Sangrur itself, so that patients do not have to travel to Patiala or other parts of Punjab. This will plug the gap between Level 2 and Level 3.”

(WITH INPUTS FROM ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA)

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