The sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh has resulted in much fear and anxiety. As civil society organisations seek to serve their communities in these states, they have had to deal with sub-optimal health infrastructure and services, as well as address the misconceptions among the villagers regarding testing, vaccination, and isolation.

In the over 2,000 villages that Transforming Rural India Foundation (TRIF) has been working in, we’ve estimated that in eight out of ten households, at least one family member is COVID-19 positive. We have also seen fatalities rise in these regions.

Various myths, misinformation, testing and vaccination hesitancy, and a reluctance to disclose their symptoms due to the fear of community ostracisation have made the situation worse. When people do show symptoms like fever and cough, they first turn to the traditional healer or local rural medical practitioner (RMP).

In the surveys conducted in Petlawad, Samnapur, and so on, we found that many locals hid their symptoms, provided false information to healthcare workers, and vented their anger on frontline workers who were mobilising people for vaccination. There is also a real fear that if isolation centres are set up at the local panchayat level, the virus will spread from these centres to the surrounding villages through the air, because of which there is opposition to these centres. The rapid surge, compounded by lack of testing and treatment, is seriously undermining containment efforts.

The window of opportunity to stop preventable deaths is narrow, but doable. We need to contain the cases at the village level and ensure that they don’t become severe enough that hospitalisation is required.

  1.  Increase testing and awareness about infection management
  2. Allocate funds for the welfare of frontline and community workers
  3. Provide training support to frontline workers
  4. Improve isolation facilities
  5. Consider collaborating with private hospitals
  6. Eliminate barriers to accessing entitlements
  7.  Ramp-up vaccinations

Read the full article about how India's NGOs can take action to address COVID-19 by Anish Kumar at India Development Review.