Odisha Dialogues requests State govt to ramp up Covid awareness programme

Bhubaneswar: The Forum for Odisha Dialogues, a newly-established non-partisan research and advocacy organisation, has submitted a three-point policy memorandum to Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, outlining measures that could help contain the spread of Covid-19 infections in rural areas of the state.

Reiterating the urgent need to strengthen the prevention mechanism and fight reluctance among people to volunteer for vaccination and physician’s consultations, Odisha Dialogues has urged the Government of Odisha to ramp up awareness campaigns in partnership with community organisations, grassroots workers and elected representatives of local bodies.

Over the past weeks, Odisha Dialogues has held several consultative meetings with medical experts, health professionals, patients who have recovered from Covid-19 infection, sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats and representatives of grassroots organisations to ascertain the ground situation and evolve an action plan for better management of challenges that are felt in rural areas of Odisha. The consultations and deliberations were led by Dr Bidhu Kalyan Mohanty, a renowned medical expert who also is a member of the Board of Advisors at Odisha Dialogues.

During the consultations, it was observed that even if people are infected with the coronavirus and they have visible symptoms they are not reporting the same to the Gram Panchayat or to the health system. One of the main reasons behind such behaviour of people is the lack of adequate information among the rural public regarding second wave of Covid-19, especially its symptoms, treatment protocol and what to do in case a patient’s health condition deteriorates. This makes tackling the challenges by lowest level of health workers more difficult. Not carrying out enough testing in rural areas is another reason of not knowing the extent of spread of infection in rural areas.

In order to improve the situation quickly, the Government of Odisha should opt for providing required training to local youth leaders, SHG members, and elected representatives for conducting house-to-house survey and raising the awareness level, the memorandum submitted to the chief minister said. All these people can be adequately equipped with oximeters and glucometers to discharge their tasks effectively, it added.

While the state government has taken the right step in seeking to decentralise management of Covid-19 and involve elected representatives at a Gram Panchayat, the initiative will yield result only when it is supported by adequate financial and other resources (essential equipment), the Forum said.

The memorandum drew attention to the experience of the Gram Panchayats during the first wave of the pandemic. It noted that the system of reimbursing expenditure on management of temporary medical centres (TMCs) wasn’t very successful, one of the reasons for village heads shying away from volunteering to lead the Covid-19 mitigation with the same zeal as they did last year.

The Gram Panchayat functionaries did not receive proactive support from government officials who still keep all the control mechanisms in their hands. For transparent and productive use of financial assistance, the Government of Odisha needs to fix limits of expenditure on different heads such as beds, food, hygiene, security, medicines, etc., the Forum suggested in its policy note. The TMCs need to be equipped with oxygen cylinders to meet any eventuality, it said, adding that ambulances already available in the health system also need to be fitted with oxygen cylinders.

Availability of Covid-19 information cell at the Gram Panchayat levels, providing health intervention to serious patients, capacity building of ground level functionaries and volunteers involved in Covid-19 management are priority areas that need immediate attention, the Forum has said.

Odisha Dialogues has set up a Covid-19 working group that is regularly monitoring the situation through its partners working in rural areas of Odisha, said Rajesh Mahapatra, Founder Director of the Forum. The above policy suggestions do not take into account any possible impact of Cyclone Yaas on the situation prevailing in the coastal districts. The Forum will be looking into it soon, Mahapatra added.

The memorandum submitted to the chief minister as well as a larger policy note on the subject were prepared with active help and information received from Public Health Resource Network (PHRN); Jana Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA); Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS); National Association of Women’s Organisations (NAWO); Centre for Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA) and Citizen Forum from Bhubaneswar; SEWAK, Sundargarh; DAPTA, Kalahandi, Youth for Social Development (YSD), Ganjam; and JAGRUTI, Kandhamal.

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