How Boat Clinics Helped in Vaccinating People on River Islands in Assam
Villagers living on the river islands in Assam rely on Boat Clinics for their fight against COVID-19.
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The sight of a 'Boat Clinic' arriving with a team of doctors and nurses is a moment that the people living in Kachumara village in Assam's Barpeta district wait for.
Situated along the banks of the Brahmaputra, Kachumara village is a river island with no proper healthcare facilities.
The 2011 Census Data states that Kachumara village has a population of ~6865. The village is cut off from the mainland and Boat Clinics have been the only option for medical help, and now COVID care and vaccination.
“The introduction of Boat Clinics has made access to medical care easy. It is because of these clinics that we have access to COVID vaccines, else we would have had to walk down 10-15 kms for it."Nur Jamal Hoque, Resident of Kachumara Village
Nur Jamal Hoque, a resident of Kachumara village, told The Quint how people from West Bhelengi, living along the Bhelengi river, have come to their village to take the vaccine from the camp in Barpeta.
And this is not the story of just these two villages, but that of all the river islands in the state.
Boat Clinics travel to all river islands in thirteen districts of the state.
"We don't have sub centers. We have to cross the river and go take the vaccine, but now even pregnant women are getting free checkup with the help of this Boat Clinic program,” Hoque said.
Boat Clinics Giving a New Lease of Life
Riyazuddin Munshi, another villager of the same village, tells us that approximately 300-400 villagers from his village have been vaccinated so far because of the Boat Clinics.
"The Boat Clinic comes here every month, and gives us vaccines and other treatments, which is very helpful for our community. We do not have any medical facilities here," he added.
Local healthcare workers like ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers have helped in creating awareness among villagers and brought them to Boat Clinics for vaccination and treatment.
Funded by the National Rural Health Mission of Assam, the Centre for Northeast Studies (C-NES) and Policy Research launched the first Boat Clinic in Dibrugarh district of Assam in 2008.
The aim was to cater to more than 2,000 villages on the river islands along the Brahmaputra. And now, these Boat Clinics have helped in strengthening the fight against COVID-19 by reaching remote villages.
Floating Misinformation About COVID-19 Vaccines
However, misinformation around COVID-19 and the vaccines has made an already difficult job of the healthcare workers even more difficult.
Speaking to The Quint, ASHA and Anganwadi workers highlighted how rumours and falsehoods came in the way of the vaccination drive and scared the residents of the island.
To quell the fear, doctors of Boat Clinics did street plays, distributed pamphlets, went door to door to spread awareness about the COVID-19 virus. They even informed the people about the importance of physical distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask.
"People have heard rumours that they will die after taking the vaccine or that they will survive only for three months. Due to these rumours, many people have still not been vaccinated."Ana Khatun, Resident of Kachumara Village
"When India started recording COVID cases in 2020, we faced difficulties in educating people about the virus. But then we started the vaccination drive in August this year and since then, we have vaccinated more than 2,000 people (all the islands visited by the unit)," added Saikat Shukla, district programme officer, Barpeta Boat Clinics, Unit 1.
A villager, Anjuma, who was getting her first shot, told us that she is no more scared of getting vaccinated.
COVID Exposed the Gaps in the Healthcare Infrastructure
COVID-19 highlighted the gaps in the healthcare infrastructure and disproportionately affected the poor and the marginalised living in these river islands.
The residents lack access to necessary resources, and medical facilities is one of them.
"Earlier for the vaccine, the villagers had to go so far. They called us every day and night regarding the next COVID camp. Now they are excited knowing that the camp is near their homes."Asma Begum, Anganwadi Worker, Kachumara Village
Not only COVID care but these clinics have made maternal care easier for the villagers.
"As Boat Clinic has reached our char (river island), we can take all the pregnant women, infants, and children for their regular injections. It is very helpful for us. Even the children are developing well," said Eyaron Nessa, ICDS Anganwadi worker, Kachumara village.
As India has completed vaccinating one billion people, these are real heroes who need to be celebrated.
(Reporting: Anjana Dutta)
(This story has been published as a part of The Quint’s COVID-19 fact-check project targeting rural women.)
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