In Jharkhand, panchayat heads flag lack of medicines and oximeters to hesitancy

As the pandemic’s second wave knocks on the door of rural India, Jharkhand's villages have found themselves scrambling for these key requirements.

A paucity of essential medicines like paracetamol; a limited number of pulse oximeters; “widespread” fever; vaccine hesitancy; vague guidelines on utilising the 15th Finance Commission payment for Covid-19 work; and even a scarcity of something as basic as drinking water.

As the pandemic’s second wave knocks on the door of rural India, Jharkhand’s villages have found themselves scrambling for these key requirements.

The heads of panchayats from the state’s 24 districts raised these red flags in a series of virtual meetings with the government and among themselves. The Indian Express was a part of some of these meetings where these mukhiyas sent out a grim warning: “Covid has reached the villages.”

Jharkhand has been hit hard by the pandemic. The state has a weekly positivity rate of around 12 per cent and an active caseload of 48, 468. In the last 44 days, it has seen a four-fold increase in Covid-19 deaths—around from 1,113 on March 31 this year to 4,290 deaths on May 14.

But in several meetings, the mukhiyas have said the state may be undercounting the number of Covid deaths in many villages.

At a virtual meeting with the Panchayati Raj Department and NGOs on May 12, Patel Kumar Mahato of Bokaro’s Murhulsudi Panchayat said there were no medicines in the Community Health Centre. Mahato, who was himself ill, said: “There is no paracetamol in our CHC. Every household has fever.”

Lack of doctors is a major concern for the state, with some districts engaging quacks to fight vaccine hesitancy and administer basic medicines.

But compounding this are issues in the last-mile delivery of medicines and pulse oximeters.

The state Health Department has written several letters to Deputy Commissioners on the distribution of home isolation kits comprising masks, essential medicines and oximeters. This has remained only on paper, with only a handful of panchayats receiving them.

In Koderma district’s Pipradih panchayat, meanwhile, mukhiya Dheeraj Kumar’s main worry is vaccine hesitancy. His 45-year-old cousin died after the first dose. Since then, he said, residents have turned on him.

Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Arun Singh said: “We will get the first tranche of pulse oximeters shortly and we will deliver it to them. On medicines, we have given money to the districts which need to supply it to them.” But issues remain.

Many people have been diagnosed with typhoid in absence of test reports. As of May 14, the state had more than 13,000 Covid-19 test backlogs.

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