Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Even in villages close to the state capital, people are in denial about Covid-19 and have all sorts of misconceptions about vaccination. Some say that they cannot contract Covid as they live in ‘fresh air and sunshine’ while others are not ready to get themselves tested even after developing Covid-like symptoms because they fear that they may be herded into ill-equipped isolation centres or may die alone in a hospital.
These are among the conclusions of a survey conducted by Muskaan, an NGO, in slum clusters in the city and in neighbouring villages this month.
In a village less than 20 kilometres from New Market, the team found that the people were sure that Corona COULD not touch them. “We breathe fresh air, we live in the sun. We don’t go out,” they said. However, the team found an elderly woman with typical Covid symptoms of fever, loss of taste, cold and cough. “Malti Didi was suffering from a severe headache and Chandan Bhaiya was sniffling for one week and had lost his taste and smell,” the report says.
The people were not ready to believe that they could contract the disease. “The excuses vary from ‘I am 18, I cannot have corona’ to ‘She just has a cold and, sometimes, one loses one’s sense of smell and taste, too’ to ‘It is because I have eaten too much cucumber’. There is a clear reluctance to even use the word ‘corona’ or see it as a possibility,” the report says.
According to the report, there is a lack of awareness that has been allowed to grow and mutate into something more dangerous, where people are not able to acknowledge that corona exists. The blame lies squarely on the authorities which did not invest more in spreading awareness. “With the negative experiences of last year still fresh in people’s minds, people hesitate and suffer inside their homes. They fear that they will be herded unasked into an isolation/quarantine centre as was done for many in the first wave, or will die in a hospital alone,” says Shivani Taneja of Muskaan.
There are misconceptions about vaccination, too. “An old woman died a month after getting vaccinated and the people’s explanation was that her body was not able to ‘tolerate’ the vaccine. Another woman in a neighbouring village had died within two days. She had walked to the vaccination centre, so why did she die after this?” were among the questions that were being asked.
Despite the tall claims being made about investments in health infrastructure, the facilities available to most of the rural population are severely lacking. Even for those who wish to avail of treatment, the urban poor and the rural populace are accessing small, private clinics, quacks and even medical stores for treatment. While many are recovering even with this much treatment, several are not. Where treatment fails, people say that the death was due to a heart attack, or typhoid, or childbirth, or just that the patient had a sudden bout of breathlessness.
“Our team members have recorded 22 Covid-related deaths in the past three weeks from our limited contacts in 15 bustees and 4 villages. These include two deaths which took place within a short period of a week after vaccination,” Seema Deshmukh, a team member says.
The problems in the slums are a bit different. “When we visited a bustee near the Ayodhya Bypass, every household had at least one member suffering from body ache, fever and dry cough,” the report says.
The report says that, while the people were reluctant to get themselves tested, the authorities were eager to distribute medicines without testing them.
Figures will definitely dip in this situation—where the poor die and suffer at home quietly, without a record of their contracting this deadly virus; where tests are either not conducted, or unreliable Rapid Antigen Tests are conducted; or results are falsified, says another team member, Tanveer Naaz.
The report recommends
A social autopsy of all the deaths over the past three months should to be undertaken to find out the extent of under-reporting on the incidence of Covid, and also to ensure that schemes for Covid-affected families reach the most needy.
There is a need to launch awareness drives and hold sabhas in bustees and villages to deal with the worries and misconceptions of the people
The survey was conducted in the bustees of Old and New Bhopal, including MP Nagar, Ayodhya Bypass, Kotra, Sultanabad and Gandhi Nagar and in the villages around Ratibad