From Where They Can’t Tweet For Help: Rural UP’s COVID Nightmare
A journey from Varanasi to Buxar to document rural Uttar Pradesh’s chance at survival amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reporter/Producer/Camera: Asmita Nandy
Video Editor/Animator: Rahul Sanpui
Graphics: Shruti Mathur
Senior Editors: Aditya Menon/Tridip K Mandal
120 kilometers along the river Ganga in rural eastern Uttar Pradesh, ravaged by the pandemic. Five villages, in between UP's Varanasi and Buxar in Bihar. And the same story.
No Access. No Awareness. No affordability.
Even as dead bodies come afloat in the Ganga and the stories of nightmare of unavailability of basic health care in rural Uttar Pradesh haunt our timeline, The Quint visited a few villages along the river in eastern part of the state to find their chance at life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Four out of the five villages did not have any testing facility. One where testing camp was held, people were hesitant due to several rumours about quarantine, etc.
- None of the five villages had any vaccination awareness drive, most said the vaccination centre nearest to their village was already out of stock
- There was no way to get access to oxygen cylinders or concentrators. Most people would go to the nearest hospital, after arranging for their own vehicle and only after the symptoms intensified. Locals say most of the time, it was too late.
- Due to a spread of misinformation and lack of adequate government communication, most people in the area were hesitant to get vaccinated over the fear of “death” and “further complications.”
- Besides fear, other reasons contributing to the delayed process of vaccination in the rural areas are massive shortages of vaccines, long queues outside the only centre catering to 5-6 villages, lack of communication and information, inaccessibility to smartphones or internet and long travels to vaccine centres.
- ANM, ASHA and local social activists have been trying to encourage people to get tested and vaccinated, but there are hardly any programmes running to sensitise them about the details on the virus or the vaccine.
- Due to the lack and/or non-functionality of PHCs/CHCs in the near vicinity, most people are forced to go to private hospitals where treatment is extremely expensive and often unaffordable for the rural poor.
‘People Are Dying With Flu Symptoms Like Flies, No Way to Test For COVID’
In a tiny hamlet called Rampur Sadhopur that barely shows up on Google maps till you Zoom in, two ‘Jhola chap’ doctors have been prescribing medicines for “flu and fever” to the people. Abhishek Singh, who has completed his diploma but awaits a job, says,
“The impact of COVID-19 can be seen in the village for the last two months. There have been many people who are dying, but most of them are not getting tested but the symptoms are COVID-19 like.”
He continues, “Some days ago, one of the men from the Harijan community in the village was very ill. Initially, he took medicines from the local doctors but when the situation worsened, he was taken to a private hospital nearby where they gave him injections. After he came back home, he passed away gasping for breath.”
'We Will Die But Not Take the Vaccine’: Lack of Outreach, Awareness Translates to Fear, Hesitancy in Rural UP
The death in concern was misinterpreted by several locals in the village as a consequence of going to the hospital. They say they would rather “die in homes than in hospitals.” The mistrust in health care facilities in rural areas is deep-rooted in lack of access and awareness. The same deficit of trust is resulting in vaccine hesitancy among many.
A daily wage labourer in Sadhopur says, “We will die but not take the vaccine. You never know what they inject in our bodies. I have not taken the vaccine and I am not sick.”
The same fear over vaccines was seen among locals in Bara, a bordering village between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Rajbhar, a farm labourer in Bara, says, “We have been having flu since centuries. How can we believe Coronavirus which has the same symptoms is a new disease?”
As per a recent survey conducted by Video Volunteers for The Quint, 26 percent of the respondents, both among the urban and rural poor, believed that COVID-19 is a government conspiracy and that asking them to vaccinate and wear masks is mere propaganda.
Moreover, the survey also revealed that 42% respondents in rural Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have said NO to taking the vaccine.
Rajbhar, however, says their first access to government health care facility in the village is a Primary Health Centre (PHC) which stares at a massive shortage of doctors and staff.
Shahenshah Khan, who runs a local transport business opposite the PHC, showed us around the premises of the building, which was locked when we visited. He says the attached residence quarters meant for doctors and their families to live in is now a den for addiction and gambling.
According to rural health statistics 2019-20, for a rural population of 17,48,04,000, there are only 2,880 functional PHCs, with a massive shortage of doctors and health care staff in them.
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