Rapid and subsidised testing, uninterrupted essential health services will help fight Covid in rural India: Expert

Public health expert and executive director of NGO Population Foundation of India, Poonam Muttreja, has said subsidised testing, treatment and vaccination along with uninterrupted essential health services for the most vulnerable will help fight the pandemic.

A lack of awareness and reluctance to submit to testing, treatment and vaccination makes the rural population more susceptible to Covid-19, said Muttreja, adding that the problem is compounded by the fact that medical infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas and community health centrs are not always easily accessible.

“With only five hospital beds per 10,000 population and 8.6 physicians for every 10,000 people, we are grossly underprepared for a crisis of this size. It is critical that the government urgently implements short and long-term measures that can strengthen rural health systems to address some of these challenges.

“There is an urgent need for surveillance and testing in rural areas to ensure early detection and diagnosis. Strengthening alternate models for outreach services that leverage technology-based solutions, such as the government of India’s e-Sanjeevani programme, which provides online OPD services to patients at their homes, could be critical to saving lives,” Muttreja added.

Central to efforts against the infection are awareness and sensitisation campaigns on the use of masks, physical distancing, handwashing and vaccine hesitancy. Social and behaviour change communication campaigns are critical to promoting preventive and Covid-appropriate behaviors, and addressing myths and misconceptions around the disease. Moreover, campaigns to dispel myths and fears around the Covid-19 vaccines will ensure vaccine uptake in rural areas, protecting millions from severe effects of the disease, she said.