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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Facing vaccine fears, Jamtara calls up unlikely allies — quacks

This model of engaging quacks in reaching out to the villages is also working in another district – Khunti – and is likely to be replicated across the state soon, according to a senior government official.

Written by Abhishek Angad | Jamtara |
Updated: May 13, 2021 7:52:30 am
Sushil Ghosh (left) speaks to villagers at Dalabar. (Express Photo)

WEARING A mask and gloves, Sushil Ghosh moves door to door in Dalabar village in Jharkhand’s Jamtara district, bordering West Bengal, asking people to follow Covid appropriate behavior and get themselves vaccinated.

As the 42-year-old reaches Manjhipara colony of the village, he meets an elderly woman. “Aami vaccine nibo na, more jaabo tobe (I will not get vaccinated, what if I die),” the woman tells him in Bengali. Ghosh assures her he will not let her die and save her “at any cost”, but emphasises that she must get vaccinated to defeat coronavirus.

Many in this village take the suggestions of “Doctor Ghosh” – as they call him – seriously and follow them. Only, he is not a doctor.

Ghosh, who has been treating people for basic ailments for the past 20 years after a brief stint in a medical store, is one of the 419 local quacks or healers roped in by the district administration to spread awareness about the virus as well as remove vaccine hesitancy – the primary challenge for officials in the rural areas.

This model of engaging quacks in reaching out to the villages is also working in another district – Khunti – and is likely to be replicated across the state soon, according to a senior government official.

So far, Jamtara has vaccinated only 28 per cent of its 45-plus population. The district has 1,024 active cases as on May 10 and recorded 38 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Jamtara Deputy Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Mumtaz says ahead of engaging them in Covid-related work, all 419 selected people were called for a meeting with the concerned Block Development Officers and Circle Officers, and basic information related to the virus was shared.

On whether this will encourage quackery, Mumtaz says: “These quacks or healers have been treating the villagers for sometime and there is a trust that has developed among them over time. We could have asked a teacher to do the same job, but villagers consider them as ‘doctors’ and psychologically it impacts more if they tell them to get vaccinated. There are a lot of rumours going around against vaccination.”

Currently, the quacks are doing the job without any remuneration – they will be given certificates of appreciation by the administration later.

According to the Deputy Commissioner, there are plans to filter the number to around 100 quacks in the coming days and train them to collect swabs.

Ghosh says many in his area, including Dalabar, which has a population of around four lakh, fear they would turn infertile or die if they get vaccinated. “They are scared and we will help them get over it. We will work for society,” he says.

In neighbouring Maheshmunda village, Tapan Manjhi vouches for Ghosh. “I know him for the past eight years, and he has been of utmost help in giving first aid to many of us — even during the night. He told me to get vaccinated,” the villagers says.

At a Public Health Centre in Shiulibari, 30 km away, Gautam Chandra Minz is maintaining the vaccination register as an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife is administering vaccine jabs to villagers. “You may get fever, but you should not feel scared,” Minz, for whom it’s the first day in his new role, tells a villager.

Like Ghosh, Minz too made rounds of the village in the morning, asking people to get vaccination. “I even brought two people along with me, but more are not turning up. We have to work in a war footing and make a lot of people aware,” he says.

An Intermediate pass, Minz says he worked with a medical store for 25 years and accompanied doctors to learn about medical issues. For the past one year, he has been running a “clinic”.

On the replication of the Jamtara model across the state, a source in the state health department says, “We will informally involve all quacks, and train them on presumptive treatment as well as to fight vaccine hesitancy.”

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