There are reports of some Punjab villages opposing the testing for COVID-19. In some, barricades have been erected to refuse entry of health workers. The ASHA workers are reportedly saying that they should be provided with security because at many places people not only refuse to cooperate for conducting COVID-19 related survey, but also resist and use abusive language against them and threaten them not to visit again.
This is a very precarious situation which has to be dealt with effectively through meaningful dialogue and not as a law and order problem. Such situations are known to occur during epidemics because there is anxiety, fear, uncertainty and misinformation. About 60 years back when health workers would go to villages to inoculate against Small Pox, people would resist and take away their children from schools. In some parts of the country similar things happened for Polio vaccination initially. But now the times have changed. There is so much of ease in communication, such things can be addressed to.
There are rumours that if you get the COVID-19 test done, the government will pick you and take away to the hospital and keep there for 14 days. This is despite the fact that in Punjab there is a clear cut policy for home quarantine. In fact, some people from intelligentsia have put into the minds of people that Coronavirus is nothing but a farce hyped by the government. It is true that some business houses are out to reap profits in such a situation globally. But it does not mean that there is no disease. The seriousness of the pandemic has to be admitted.
There are also rumours that several organs including the kidneys are removed from the dead COVID-19 patients. There are also rumours that the private hospitals get Rs. 1.5 lakh to give the report for every case as COVID-19 positive.
Because the health services by the state are very poor, the government has taken the private sector into fold to tackle the disease. This has led to fear and scepticism in the minds of the people. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to give a clarification to the issues raised by the people.
The state government should initiate dialogue with the Panchayats and convince them. The administration should take initiative in this direction. As there is a surge in the cases in Punjab, this has become very important because if disease spreads to the villages in large number, it will not only affect their health but also economy of the state. The businesses are already down; Industry is almost closed and there is a lot of unemployment. We are sustaining only on the basis of agricultural economy. If people of the villages fall ill and agriculture gets affected then this economy will be in doldrums..
This is a serious health emergency and it should be dealt through the spread of knowledge and science to win over confidence of the people. Their fears have to be allayed. Therefore a meaningful effective dialogue with people is need of the hour. As a long term perspective, however, the healthcare system has to be improved by increasing the state’s health budget at least 4 times.
The author is based at Ludhiana, Punjab. He is a co-president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
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