440 Days & Counting: Kalbhonde Village in Thane Has No COVID Cases
Village volunteers tested temperature or measured the oxygen level of each villager every alternate day in rotation.
Much like that tribe indomitable Gaulish village resisting the Roman invaders, one small village in Thane has managed to stand its ground admirably against the raging scourge of COVID-19 for over 15 months.
Since around 440 days after the lockdown was announced in March 2020, Kalbhonde village in Thane district has become a case study of sorts with not a single case of COVID-19 infection recorded in the village of 1,560 souls.
Interestingly, the picturesque village nestles in a green hilly belt of Thane, around 70 kms from Mumbai which has been the hotspot of the pandemic, and Kalbhonde falls within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) area.
How Has the Village Managed to Stay Unaffected?
“During the first and second wave of COVID, we have recorded zero cases. Now, we are preparing for the dreaded third wave with the same vigour,” the village Sarpanch Devki M Ghera told IANS.
Leading the anti-COVID war from the front, she was assisted by the Police Patil Bhalchandra Khadke, Gram Sevak Prashant Marke, and an 11-member Village Vigilance Committee (VVC), ASHA workers, Aanganwadi workers and school teachers, to chalk out the strategies and protect the people of the village at all costs.
Primarily, Ghera said the village strictly adheres to all the guidelines issued by the Thane district authorities and has virtually 'sealed itself' from the outside world.
“No outsiders, except for essential services or medical emergencies, were permitted. Those entering were fully sanitised at the village entry points, their clothes were changed, washed and dried up there. The family hosting them ensured their isolation, regular sanitisation and hand washing was practised by all till the visitors left,” explained Police Patil Khadke.
Sarpanch Ghera said most of the village requirements were sourced locally barring some essentials like critical medicines, food grains, edible oils, sanitary pads, etc, which had to be brought from outside and stocked.
"The delivery vans were stopped outside the village, payments were made, and the consignments handled after full sanitisation were taken to the sole ration shop or other distribution points in the village. Ditto with NGOs or corporates like IndiaBulls, Lions Club of Dombivali, or Satya Sai Seva Sangh, Thane which regularly send relief materials," said Gram Sevak Marke.
Similarly, for rare medical emergencies or pregnant women requiring the attention of higher medical authorities, the ASHA workers or Aanganwadi workers accompanied them, following strict protocols.
Khadke said that at the height of the pandemic, the village volunteers tested body temperature or measured the oxygen level of each villager every alternate day in rotation to cover the entire population in a week.
"The VVC had a meeting on Thursday and from Sunday, 6 June, the same strategy will be resumed ahead of the possible third wave of COVID," said Khadke.
Regular Awareness Drives
Ghera, her administrative team of deputy Sarpanch and other Gram Panchayat Members, besides the VVC conduct regular 'awareness drives' among the people to continuously drive home the message to keep COVID out of Kalbhonde at all costs.
“All villagers know the dos and don’ts, isolation centres have come up near the village entry point so if any suspects are found, they are kept there, all entering the village are fully sanitised, the entire village is sanitised every three months at our expense,” said Ghera with pride over the achievement.
Khadke and Marke said way back in early-March 2020, the village elders had realised that the issue was serious, and it could be a long war with the virus, but they resolved "not to let it enter Kalbhonde" and triumphed.
The villagers are predominantly farmers who cultivate rice, cereals or vegetables, plus there are ponds full of fish, crabs, prawns, but the prime idea was "to keep minimum contacts with all outsiders" and the people remained almost in a "self-imposed siege", smiled Khadke.
With the success of a ‘Zero COVID’ village now bearing fruits, the Sarpanch and her team now want to ensure that the entire eligible age groups (18 and above) get vaccinated on top priority.
“So far, barely two dozen people have been vaccinated, mostly the senior groups, but we are now discussing with the authorities to give the doses to all before the third wave starts. We have already registered all the eligible persons, who await the life-saver jabs now,” said Khadke.
(Published in an arrangement with IANS)
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