After cremating Rohtas Kundu, who died of Covid, his relatives and neighbours at Titoli village in Rohtak were seen sharing a hookah, flouting all forms of Covid-appropriate behaviour. | Photo: Nitin Kumar
A few days ago, Rohtas Kundu was taken to a private hospital in Bahadurgarh, 68 km from his home at Titoli village in Haryana’s Rohtak district. The 43-year-old died of Covid-19 this week — due to a lack of timely medical attention, according to his relatives.
Titoli has a Covid care centre equipped with oxygen cylinders and concentrators, and medicines. Then, why wasn’t Rohtas treated at his own village?
He simply didn’t have a choice.
It’s a reality that reflects the state of health infrastructure in the rural hinterland.
The Covid care centre in Titoli does not have a single doctor, nurse or any medical staff. Its only resident is a security person, who zealously guards the medicines and equipment. The Covid facility is alien to patients, although the village has reported over 100 Covid-19 cases and 60 deaths in the last one month.
“The administration had assigned a vaid (ayurvedic practitioner) to this centre after doctors refused to take up the job. However, the vaid, too, has not shown up,” says Aakash Kumar, the guard.
Titoli is not an exception. Just 15 km away is Nindana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s native village that has a population of 1,500-odd people and reported a spate of infections with more than 50 Covid deaths so far. It has witnessed at least 70 cases during the second wave, say officials. But no patient has gone to its Covid care centre to seek treatment.
“It does not have a doctor,” says Rishi Ram Pandit, a 78-year-old farmer in Nindana.
It is the same story in the neighbouring district of Jhajjar. In Badli village, which has a community health care centre (CHC) doubling as a Covid hospital and vaccination centre, over 60 people have died following Covid-like symptoms.
A crowd outside the CHC is demanding that their Covid-positive relatives be admitted. But it is yet to admit any patient, citing lack of medical staff.
“We only have five doctors here. To admit patients, we need more medical staff,” says Priya, a doctor who is busy testing people and offering consultations.
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s “Rural Health Statistics 2019-20” report, an average of 171,779 people are covered by a CHC.
Asked about the non-functional Covid care centres, Anil Birla, chief medical officer-Rohtak, says: “We can admit only those Covid patients who have opted for institutional quarantine after testing positive. There is no provision to admit those who had declined institutional quarantine earlier.”
Birla adds that these centres do not have permanent doctors, but doctors visit once a week.
“Since May 15, around 10 Covid care centres are being started every day, with the plan of setting up such facilities in all 148 villages of Rohtak district,” says Birla. However, he concedes no patient has been admitted to any of these centres as yet.
Chief Minister Khattar recently promised that every village in Haryana
would soon have a 30-bed Covid care centre, along with an ambulance each. However, there has been no word on ensuring the availability of doctors at these centres.
Repeated calls to health minister Anil Vij went unanswered.
Though the lack of health staff is hampering Haryana’s fight against Covid-19, villagers, too, aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. After cremating Rohtas, his relatives and neighbours were seen sharing a hookah, flouting all forms of Covid-appropriate behaviour.
“Kimmi na honda (nothing will happen),” says 82-year-old Hawa Singh, who believes that the vaccine shots are behind the rise in Covid-19 cases.
It’s a Herculean task to convince people to get vaccinated, feels Vikash Kinha, a social worker who is helping Covid patients. “They are more afraid of vaccination than of contracting Covid, which, they say, is nothing but normal flu.”
Misconceptions spread like the virus here. For instance, some believe the testing of 5G telecom network is responsible for the surge in deaths. “5G towers are behind all this. We had requested the district collector to stop the telecom network for 15 days. He said he would look into the matter, but did nothing,” complains Jaipal Singh, an elder in Titoli.
When questioned about not following social distancing, villagers in Rohtak and Jhajjar defiantly insist that maintaining “bhaichara (brotherhood)” is more important.
Sitting with a group of four men sharing a hookah, Deepak Bhardwaj, a 24-year-old trainee civil judge in Nindana, says: “We don’t usually go out of our village, so chances of us getting infected are low. These are my brothers. We live and eat together. So we don’t have anything to worry about.”
According to Suman Mor, co-author of a comic book, Kids, Vaayu & Corona, and chairperson, department of environmental studies, Panjab University, it is better to educate children about the coronavirus and take their help to educate adults in turn. “Adults usually don’t heed advice and keep defying social distancing and other norms.”
On Thursday, Haryana
reported 124 Covid deaths, taking the toll in the state to 7,205. It also recorded 6,457 new infections, with Rohtak and Jhajjar accounting for 196 and 350 cases respectively.