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Saturday, June 19, 2021

How rural Karnataka is keeping Covid-19 spread in check

As per official figures, as many as 35,015 'Corona Volunteers' have been identified, trained, and assigned various tasks amid the pandemic during the second wave.

Written by Ralph Alex Arakal | Bengaluru |
Updated: June 1, 2021 8:12:05 am
Gram Panchayat taskforce in Kalebelgundi in Yadgir outdoor meeting. (Photo: Special Arrangement)

“Don’t panic, stay alert,” a group of senior government officials from Karnataka said in March last year while addressing nearly 6,000 gram panchayats via a video conference during the Ugadi season. This, as the number of Covid-19 cases began to surge. Little did they know that “Bhaya beda Yecharike irali” – the exact Kannada translation of the phrase – would turn into a jingle, echoing through rural Karnataka.

Panchayat Raj Principal Secretary Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta, speaking to Indianexpress.com, said once the taskforces set up in each gram panchayat were armed with scientific training on generating Covid-19 awareness and an action plan on how to effectively tackle the pandemic, the message was soon disseminated.

“Many were seen using wall art, graffiti, rangoli, and dangura (beating drum while making announcements) as ways of ensuring that the message reaches even the last person in a village. Further, they composed jingles and folk songs to play them, with announcements on loudspeakers tied to autorickshaws as well,” Dasgupta said, adding that this approach helped keep infections in check to a large extent.

An ASHA worker on home isolation visit in Kolar district. (Photo: Special arrangement)

As per official figures, as many as 35,015 ‘Corona Volunteers’ have been identified, trained, and assigned various tasks amid the pandemic during the second wave. Each Gram Panchayat Task Force (GPTF), chaired by the Panchayat President, comprises an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker, GP member from each village, Anganwadi supervisor/representative, station house officer (SHO)/representative of the local police station, Village Accountant/Revenue Inspector, Panchayat Development Officer (PDO), a self-help group (SHG) representative, and a medical officer of the local health centre among others.

“Soon, GPTFs began working towards Covid relief activities by ensuring distribution and delivery of PDF rations, with 60,281 families receiving the same so far. They also sourced more ration through donations for the needy while phone numbers of volunteers and a proper escalation matrix reaching up to the PDO for grievance redressal and further assistance was also soon formulated,” Mahadevan noted.

Auto-ambulance at Dhupadmahagaon-gram panchayat in Bidar. (Photo: Special arrangement)

Such initiatives and innovations, officials felt, ensured rural population stayed away from fake news, stigma, and superstition.

Second wave witnessed a granular, intensified approach

From the third week of April this year, government officials realised the infection was moving beyond Bengaluru and into rural parts of the state.

The ministerial task force, headed by deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwathnarayan, then decided to set up more Covid-19 Care Centres in rural areas to quickly move those testing positive to a medical facility. Institutional quarantine was made mandatory for all testing positive.

“For the second wave, with updated training provided to Village Task Forces (VTFs), our frontline workers were equipped with information and a comprehensive action plan on how to maintain awareness towards the need for institutional quarantining, following Covid-appropriate behaviour, following guidelines stipulated by the government, and generating interest and awareness on vaccination,” Mahadevan said.

Anganwadi rations distributed to migrant families in Abbigeri, Gadag by GP taskforce. (Photo: Special arrangement)

According to data shared by the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the share of infections in 28 districts excluding Bengaluru (Urban and Rural) has been maintained at 55 per cent, similar to what it was before the second wave (till April 12). Moreover, the rate of Covid deaths saw a drop in non-Bengaluru districts from 62.5 per cent to 48 per cent in the period from April 12 to date (Bengaluru continues to report hightest deaths till date).

Officials at the state level attribute this to the proactive steps taken at the GP or village level across districts. For instance, door-to-door surveys conducted across Vijayapura district have helped the administration keep 74 villages in the district away from even a single infection in the second wave. The district had witnessed only 15,675 infections and 211 deaths till April 12 this year since the outbreak of the pandemic. The number since rose to 17,382 and 195 respectively till May 30. However, the active caseload has now come down to 1997.

Gram Panchayat Task force at Dhupadmahagaon, Bidar. (Photo: Special arrangement)

According to Vijayapura Zilla Panchayat CEO Govinda Reddy, such surveys helped to identify, isolate and treat symptomatic persons and to provide a daily health follow-up.

“With 69 CCCs across the district at the primary healthcare centre level and eight at the GP level, patients were moved to them quickly to break the chain of infections. The survey also helped identify 3422 symptomatic people who were subjected to testing. Only 65 of them needed hospitalisation later, with their oxygen saturation level found to be decreasing,” he said. “At GPs, new syptomatic persons who are identified daily are attended to by mobile clinics which collect samples and provide medical kits,” the CEO added.

Monitoring oxygen saturation in Kolar. (Photo: Special arrangement)

Moreover, as many as 59 villages have no cases at all while the number of infections in over 50 villages is in single-digits. This is in contrast to how several villages had around 30 cases each in mid-April. “GPTF and VTFs have managed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, providing health and social security services to the rural citizens, and needy families, including families of migrants,” a senior government official said.

Deepak Gowda, Dasarahalli (Chikkamagaluru taluk) Panchayat president who heads the Covid taskforce here, said his team decided to sanitise all areas of the panchayat after they learned it would help in mitigating the spread of infections. “Once we got to know that staying clean was key towards containing the spread, our members got together and decided to disinfect the entire GP area. We had been doing this only near homes of patients testing positive last year,” he said. He added that the timely distribution of medical kits with oximeter and medicines have helped contacts at home to stay alert of any trace of infection as well.

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