In Gujarat villages, COVID-19 patients are 'Atmanirbhar’!

Gujarat govt has set up 15,322 Covid care centres in villages all across the state. However, there are no nursing staff, no doctors available. They are manned by home guard Jawans and school teachers

Photo Courtesy: PTI
Photo Courtesy: PTI

Nachiketa Desai

Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s admission that coronavirus pandemic has spread to villages, the panchayat department of the Gujarat government has set up as many as 15,322 Covid care centres all across the state under the catchy campaign slogan of ‘maaru gaam corona mukt gam’ (my village is corona free village).

Some of these make-shift Covid care centres have been set up in common grazing grounds of the village by laying cots as asked by the village head under instruction from the taluka panchayat officials.

While hardly five per cent of the village folks occupy these beds, they may or may not be coronavirus patients as none of them have undergone antigen or RT-PCR test. In fact, none of these make-shift Covid care centres have the testing kit, nor anti-viral fever medicine.

According to official figures, as of May 11, a total of 1,41,203 coronavirus tests were conducted in Gujarat. Of these 30.99 per cent were in rural areas and 71 per cent in cities.

“How are we to know who has been infected by coronavirus if there is no testing,” said Ganpatsinh Thakore, sarpanch of Borisana village on the outskirts of Gandhinagar, the state capital.

A primary health centre serving 5 to 8 villages gets 15-29 testing kits in a day. Only people residing in the village where the health centre is located get the test done while people from other villages remain untested.

“No test is done in our village. For the test, we have to go to the primary health centre at Theba village. If we are lucky, someone from the health centre comes to collect sample for RT-PCR test and we get report after five days,” says Mahesh Ahir, sarpanch of Hapa of Jamnagar district.

These Covid care centres in villages are manned by homeguard jawans and school teachers, not even nursing or para medical staff.

“Who will get admitted to the Covid care centre which has no medicine and no doctor?” said Bharatbhai Rabari, sarpanch of Halisa village of Dehgam taluka.

To just cite two cases, a ten-bed Covid care centre in Sokhda village and a 20-bed centre in Dashrath village of Vadodara district was set up under the ‘maaru gaam corona mukt gaam’ campaign by the district development officer. There were no patient in these centres but only local school teachers were deputed on Covid care duty. Noticing a bill board, some critically ill coronavirus patients came looking for Oxygen and were told by the teachers to go to the government hospital in Vadodara.

However, there are only 5,404 active Covid patients in these isolation centres against 33,104 corona infected persons living in home quarantine. With no bed available in government and private hospitals to treat Covid patients, people are compelled to look after themselves at their own homes.

“We can as well remain in isolation in our fields,” remarked Vastabhai Makwana, a farmer of Sanand taluka.

When a person dies of COVID-19 in a village without having undergone a test, the death is reported as natural death by the relatives so as to avoid social stigma. The last rites of such a person are done following the usual tradition. Had the person died in a hospital due to COVID-19 the body would not be handed over to the relatives and it would be disposed off by the hospital.

While the government claimed only 4,218 had died from COVID-19 in Gujarat, it issued as many as 1.23 lakh death certificates in just two and a half months this year. That the government was hiding the number of deaths due to the pandemic was exposed by the Gujarati newspaper ‘Divya Bhaskar’ which compared the number of death certificates issued this year with that issued last year.

The newspaper reported that the number of deaths that occurred in one month this year was more than the deaths that had occurred in three months last year. The obvious reason, the report inferred, must be the high fatality due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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