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Monday, December 06, 2021

Dang’s Vaccine Story: Health workers climb hillocks, allay misconceptions

The district has reported 866 Covid-19 positive cases with 18 deaths till date.

Written by Kamal Saiyed | Surat |
Updated: October 23, 2021 12:53:14 pm
Covid vaccination dangs suratDue to high rate of illiteracy, a lot of people of the district rely more on bhagat-bhuva (faith healers) instead of medical treatment from the government hospitals | Representational image

Climbing hillocks, walking in the dense forest areas sans roads, encountering wrath of tribal villagers having misconception about vaccine and dealing with network connectivity and the threat of possible leopard attacks were some of the challenges that the vaccinators in Dangs have been facing to make the Covid-19 vaccination campaign successful.

Yet, the eligible population in only 65 of the 311 villages have been fully vaccinated.

Overcoming the challenges at hand, the district health officials have administered 1.50 lakh people one dose of the vaccine and both doses of the vaccine to 55,000 as of October 21. With an estimated vaccine-eligible population of 1.91 lakh people, Dang has the lowest vaccine target population across all district and municipal corporation jurisdictions, of which it has managed to cover nearly 79 per cent with the first dose.

The district has reported 866 Covid-19 positive cases with 18 deaths till date.

Dangs is a tribal district of Gujarat neighbouring Nasik district of Maharashtra. With most family members going into the agricultural fields during daytime, the health workers have to reach those areas in the night time to first convince the villagers to take vaccine and then administering them the jabs.

Due to high rate of illiteracy, a lot of people of the district rely more on bhagat-bhuva (faith healers) instead of medical treatment from the government hospitals.

Tarun Solanki (25) is a Multi Purpose Health Worker (MPHW) working with Gharkhadi Primary Health Centre in Subir taluka of the district.

Sharing his experience of carrying out vaccination in villages during night time, Solanki said, “(On many occasions) We stayed in the interior villages without food during night for carrying out vaccination… There is no road connectivity and we have to cross-forest areas by walking for five to seven kilometres and climb hillocks to reach the villages, during the night (while putting our vehicles aside).”

“Our family was worried about our work, but we convinced them (of its importance). It was difficult to convince the tribal people for vaccination, as they believe that they will die after having it. We adopted the idea to target educated youths of the village.”

Solanki said, “When we reached villages like Nakatiya Hanvat, Badripada, Vankutiya, people there threatened us. The village Sarpanch saved us from the anger of people and told us to go back. Then in Nakatiya Hanvat village, we contacted Vimal Gamit, who serves as a teacher in neighbouring village school. Gamit got convinced about vaccination, but his family forced him not to go for vaccination. We told them to let him take the first dose of the vaccine and then we will wait for ten days. And if nothing happens to him, then we will come again. (We also told them that) If something happens to him, it would be our responsibility. “

“We got him vaccinated on March 23, 2021. After ten days, we visited the village and he was normal, nothing happened to him. The family got convinced and later got vaccinated later his relatives in the village, and finally, the majority of the eligible villagers got themselves vaccinated,” he added.

The health workers had to travel on bullock carts to reach some places and once they even encountered a leopard.

“While traveling on the bike to reach Thambla village during night on August 26, I had to stop my bike after seeing leopard who was crossing the way… This is for the first time I have seen leopard in front of me (at such close distance). It was hardly 20 feet away. The local villager, accompanying me on my bike, told me to wait for some time and not to drive, as the animal might get scared and attack us. The wildcat stood on the roadside near the agricultural fields for around five minutes looking at us and later went inside the fields. Later, one more leopard passed by on the same route and we kept waiting,” he said.

Lack of proper network connectivity was another major hurdle. Solanki added, “There are many villages in Dangs which has no internet connectivity, so we used to keep one of the staffers a few kilometers away from the Nakutiya village where we get network connectivity. We collect Aadhaar cards and other details from the villagers with their mobile phones and after uploading the details online, we get OTP on the mobile phones of the villagers. After finishing such an official procedure, we reach the village for vaccinate the people.”

Given the many challenges, district collector Bhavin Pandya says the district has done really well in its first dose coverage.

“When I came here five months ago (assuming office as district collector), the first dose coverage was nearly 40 per cent….From there, we have managed to go to nearly 80 per cent now, which was very difficult. A majority of the adult population here have never visited a hospital, some never in their lifetime, so naturally they are averse to allopathic medicines and the vaccine,” Pandya said.

“We have to work very hard to convince them. In other places people come to the vaccination centre, here we have to go to their homes to convince them…Once first dose is taken, I don’t think second dose uptake will be a problem,” he added.

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