COVID-19: Rural Gujarat screaming for help, but who’s listening

Lack of COVID-19 testing and medical personnel has led to chaos and turmoil in Gujarat’s rural areas

By Jumana Shah
Published: Thursday 06 May 2021

Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani talks with relatives of COVID-19 patients during a visit to Junagadh Civil Hospital May 4. Photo: @vijayrupanibjp / Twitter

Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani talks with relatives of COVID-19 patients during a visit to Junagadh Civil Hospital May 4. Photo: @vijayrupanibjp / Twitter

A deep pall of gloom has descended on the 18,000 villages of Gujarat, with people losing the will to live as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rips through the state.

Reports are pouring in of despair and misery from villages across the state, whether in Saurashtra or central Gujarat. Medical professionals as well as equipment are in short supply in these areas, leading to chaos and turmoil.

“There is a deep gloom in the villages. It is like people have lost faith and feel they are doomed to die,” Harish Sadija, a shop owner in Lunavada town of Mahisagar district in central Gujarat told this reporter.

He cited the example of Lunavada where three government hospitals do not have a computerised tomography scan facility:

About 12 ventilators are lying unused because no one knows how to use them. Testing kits ran out in the first few hours every morning. RT-PCR reports come after three days. Many more people are dying this year than the last one.

Chhota Udepur is an Adivasi-dominated district in central Gujarat. A video from the district went viral on social media recently.

The video seems to have been shot at a hospital. A young woman shows the absence of doctors and paramedical staff, ventilators, lack of basic hygiene and even fans in the blazing heat of 45 degrees Celsius. Her voice trembles with anger and despair as she screams for help, as her maternal aunt lies dead next to her because she could not get medical treatment.

A village in Chhota Udepur with a population of 10,000 has registered as many as 80 deaths in three days this week.

Mathak, a village of 4,500 in Surendranagar on the border of Saurashtra and north Gujarat, registered 23 deaths in 20 days. Local newspapers May 5 reported 42 deaths in 36 hours in the coastal Gir-Somnath district alone. However, these will not reflect in official records as COVID-19 deaths, since tests were not done.

A lack of testing has emerged as the biggest problem in Gujarat’s rural areas, because of which, the test-trace-treat mechanism has completely gone for a toss.

Another issue is the absence of medical professionals. According to data given by the state government in state Assembly session in March 2021:

  • Some 19.15 per cent of posts for Class 2, 3 & 4 workers in primary health centres.
  • There is a 28 per cent vacancy in community health centres and 29 per cent in government hospitals across the state.

Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson said the impact these vacancies would have, had been highlighted to the government several times, especially in the last one year by his party.

Dileep Mavalankar, public health expert and director of Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, said there was too much dependence on government health infrastructure in rural areas.

He said:

Vacancies at critical posts in the health department are due to the 11-month contract condition on which staff is hired. People don’t want to work with uncertainty. Even urban areas are facing a similar staff crunch, but the rural areas are the worst-affected.

Social media timelines of state politicians are now replete with emergency requests for oxygen and hospital beds in smaller towns. District-level workers are seeking help from state leaders.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.