As healthcare systems in urban cities across India grapple with the second wave of COVID-19, smaller towns and villages in the country too, are facing devastating consequences. A lack of infrastructure, limited awareness about the extent of the spread of the pandemic, and vaccine hesitancy are some reasons why rural India may not be properly equipped to deal with the pandemic, a second time around.

Drawing on the network of our member organisations, we have developed a sense of the situation on the ground and an understanding of what needs to be done immediately and in the medium-term to provide support to rural communities, particularly those in remote villages, and also in small and medium towns.

Mitigation to a large extent is the strategy that we should adopt since the disease is rapidly spreading to the interiors. We suggest the following measures:

  • Launch a massive communication drive guiding the public regarding:
    • Care in mild cases of COVID-19 by ensuring the availability of finger oximeters, N-95 masks for care providers, soaps, and sanitisers; and establishing protocols for home isolation and care, and quarantining in schools and at home.
  • Provide village-level COVID-19 support
    • A short manual or a video to dispel the fear of home isolation (can be done for 85 percent of the cases).
  • Organise relief at the village-level
    • Free ration (PDS) along with an add-on kit containing pulses, dal, oil, sugar, and soap for six months
  • Provide district or sub-district level support, including the following:
    • Twenty-four hours transport for those that require it to reach hospitals, especially in moderate and severe cases.
  • Protect and support livelihoods through:
    • Production and marketing support on digital platforms for agriculture and livestock produce and for non-farm activities. Some of this support could be in the form of loans.
  • Ensure that people can avail benefits of public welfare schemes by:
    • Ensuring quick approvals of NREGA demand and mandating districts to facilitate work initiation; publicising scope of individual works along with collective works.
  • Recognise civil society efforts
    • Publicly recognise the work of community leaders, Panchayati Raj Institutions, and CSOs to incentivise them.
  • Reduce unnecessary load on hospitals
    • Building a network of certified private health providers to provide counselling on the phone to patients and field workers for proper guidance, can help with this.
  • Conduct regular surveys of rural households and migrants
    • Last year, we, at RCRC, conducted three rounds of surveys (which can be found here, here, and here) with the support of 40 of our member organisations and managed to capture data on close to 8,500 rural households. This database could be utilised to better implement schemes and practices.

Read the full article about crisis response to COVID-19 surges in India from India Development Review.