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In over 10 days, 16,000 health workers check 95% Himachal population for COVID signs

Currently, there are only 16 COVID-19 patients in the state, and the daily count of cases has come down in the last week, with only one case being reported in the last three days. The total number of confirmed cases in Himachal so far is 34.

Written by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon | Shimla | Updated: April 15, 2020 9:33:15 pm
The result: Himachal now has a massive database of the health of its residents based on which testing and surveillance has been stepped up in certain areas. (File/AP)

It took health workers Satya Ranta and Kamlesh nearly three hours to trek uphill to the remote hilltop hamlet of Hiragdhar from the panchayat headquarters at Devat, around 120 km from Shimla, earlier this month.

Armed with notepads, mobile phones, face masks and sanitisers, the duo then visited each of the 20-odd households scattered around the ridge, surveying residents about their recent travel history and health indicators – pausing now and then to upload all data to an online portal through Google Forms.

“On an average, I covered 120-150 people each day. By April 10, I had surveyed all people in my panchayat and uploaded the findings. It required marathon-like walking up and down the hills. Houses and villages in my panchayat are scattered across hilltops and valleys,” recalled Ranta (36), an accredited social health activist (ASHA).

In less than two weeks beginning April 1, around 16,000 grassroots workers — ASHAs, auxiliary nurse midwives, anganwadi workers, health centre staff have gone door-to-door in teams of two, screening nearly 95 per cent of Himachal’s population as part of an Active Case Finding Campaign launched by the state government in its war against COVID-19.

In doing so, they often trekked for hours without food or rest, trudged through snow, forests and streams, and often worked for 12 to 16 hours a day to complete field and data-entry work.

The result: Himachal now has a massive database of the health of its residents based on which testing and surveillance has been stepped up in certain areas.

“A total of 9,835 people were found with influenza-like symptoms. We have generated heat maps identifying clusters where these symptomatic people are concentrated. Their treatment has already begun and is being monitored through follow-ups. In addition to the five categories of people we are testing as per the Centre’s guidelines, we have also started testing these people,” said Dr Nipun Jindal, Mission Director, National Health Mission, adding that the campaign has also helped in bringing under health surveillance all people with a travel history to foreign countries or disease hotspots in other states.

Jindal said that around 66.4 lakh people have been surveyed in the exercise so far (Himachal recorded a population of 68.6 lakh in the 2011 Census), and the remaining are likely to be covered shortly.

Additional Chief Secretary (Health) R D Dhiman said that testing of people with a travel history to foreign countries or COVID-19 hotspots and their primary contacts is nearly completed, and the focus of testing will now shift to people having severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) and those identified by the survey as having flu-like symptoms.

Currently, there are only 16 COVID-19 patients in the state, and the daily count of cases has come down in the last week, with only one case being reported in the last three days. The total number of confirmed cases in Himachal so far is 34.

Ranta, who is also the state president of the ASHA workers’ union, said that the exercise largely remained peaceful and residents cooperated with the workers as it was carried out by local staff who are already familiar with their areas and have a rapport with the people. “However, we heard about an incident in Mandi in which people misbehaved and even assaulted a health worker,” she said.

Seeta Devi, an ASHA worker from Pooh block in the tribal district of Kinnaur, large parts of which are still covered under snow from an unusually wet winter this year, said her “breakfast, lunch and dinner merged into a single meal all these days” as she trudged from village to village collecting information.

“Though we took precautions, meeting a large number of people naturally poses no small amount of risk in the present times. Covering every person meant we had to walk through forests, roads and snow-covered trails every day, and sometimes make multiple visits to a house when a member was absent,” she added.

After the field work, uploading forms and clarifying doubts by supervisors often went late into the night, some workers said. They were generally given a target of covering at least a hundred people each day, and were also asked to collect details of stranded migrants in their areas — all for a stipend of Rs 100 a day.

Ranta said that health workers are paid meagre wages but stepped up their efforts without complaining “as it’s our duty towards humanity and nation at this time. When the crisis is over, we expect the government to remember our work and pay heed to our demands.”

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