Hisar: “Ghar ghar jaake naak main dandi ghusa dete hai. Doctor aur police roz hi pucchne aa jate hai, bolte hain — haath dhoye, mask lagao (the team comes and puts a testing swab up our nose. Doctors and police also come to check on us every day and tell us to wash our hands, wear a mask),” Gopi Ram, a resident of Siswal village in Hisar, says in an irritated tone before going back to sipping at his tea.
His son Jasu Ram interrupts him. “Kya hua baba, teri jaan bachane ke liye hi toh karte hain (Do not complain, father. They are doing it to save your life).”
For Siswal and Dhani Siswal villages in Haryana’s Hisar district, which fall under the constituency of Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, trouble began when 70 people, who went to Vrindavan for a Holi bash in March, fell sick upon return. Things worsened with a community wedding and the insistence of some residents to visit the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand last month.
In May, over 40 people died in the two villages that have a combined population of 12,000, most with Covid-like symptoms, but only 10 of these were recorded as coronavirus fatalities.
Today, the two villages are recording the highest number of Covid-19 cases in rural Hisar. However, they have become the district’s “model villages” for ensuring the maximum testing.
According to data accessed by ThePrint, the two villages are collecting up to 400 samples a day, while the average across other Haryana villages is 20-30.
Speaking to ThePrint, MLA Bishnoi said the two villages became his “flagship projects” after he noticed that testing in the area was negligible.
“I took a meeting at the end of April, when we saw a surge in deaths. People were falling sick but no one wanted to get tested. The test numbers were poor. I then took over the two villages as my flagship projects, and ensured that the testing was ramped up,” he added. “Today, they are conducting tests every day and that is why we have been able to contain the virus here.”
Bishnoi said he now plans to extend this focus to four other villages. “Now, we have zeroed in on four other villages from where deaths are being reported, to ramp up testing at a big scale,” he said.
Hisar, which has 281 villages, has recorded over 22,107 Covid cases in May alone, with 579 deaths. However, owing to low testing in rural areas, the actual number could be much higher.
‘Testing on war footing’
Two mobile vans, with a team of doctors, set out in the villages every morning to collect samples, distribute sanitisers, and masks, and encourage villagers to get vaccinated.
“We are testing on a war-footing as it is the only way to contain the spread and we are happy that the people who were initially reluctant are now coming forward to get tested,” said Dr Roshan, the senior medical officer at the Community Health Centre (CHC) Siswal, which has 42 villages under it with a total population of 1.5 lakh people.
“This is because they started fearing death. Also, our teams ensured that all the rumours about testing and vaccination in these villages are busted and people are made aware,” he added.
According to Dr Roshan, the two villages were earlier recording around 150 cases a day, which is now down to 100. “The difference may not be much, but we have been able to identify the cases and isolate them, making sure that the infection does not spread,” he said.
Hisar Chief Medical Officer Dr Ratna Bharti said deaths in rural Haryana are in decline because of increased testing.
“People are still reluctant to get tested, but some villages are doing well. They are now asking us to come and test them and identify the positive cases, which is a relief,” she added.
“Earlier, teams that went to carry out tests used to get chased away, some team members were also beaten up and locked up. But now, since people are willing to get tested, cases are being identified at an early stage and are being treated,” she added.
Test, track, isolate
Every second household in Siswar village is now aware of coronavirus and has undergone a test at least once. The daily wagers working at a MNREGA site, too, are tested at regular intervals.
For this purpose, the CHC has deployed a team of eight medical professionals including healthcare workers who go door-to-door to test, track and isolate people.
Silochana, a village resident, said she is now aware of the virus and what it can do. “Initially, I was scared of letting them put a stick up my nose but now I understand it is important. A team of doctors takes a round every day and tells us how we have to wash our hands, not touch our face and wear a mask, if we have to live,” she added.
The first preference for testing is given to people showing symptoms of Covid-19, followed by those who have come into contact with an infected individual.
“Tracking is a big part of this exercise. We make a list of Covid positive people and then ask them to name 10 people they were in contact with. This could be family members or outsiders. Those 10 people are then tested on priority as they pose a higher risk to catch the infection,” Dr Roshan said.
The CHC has also set “testing targets”, which authorities said they will try to complete.
Once a person is confirmed to be infected with Covid-19, they are isolated.
“We give them a kit that has basic medication like multivitamins, a thermometer, and paracetamol, and keep track of them. In case they start to feel shortness of breath or the fever is high, we immediately refer them to the district hospital,” Dr Roshan said.
Vaccination picking up pace
Along with testing, the vaccination drive is also picking up pace in the two villages.
“I got the tika (injection). Some people were saying that the injection kills, but then the doctors told me that they, too, have taken it and were fine. That instilled confidence in me and I took it. Now, I go around telling people, they should get it too, if they want to live,” Dhanna Ram, a Siswal-based farmer, said.
So far, the CHC Siswal has vaccinated (first shot) over 13,200 people and they now aim to take the number to 25,000 by mid-June.
“Under the Siswan CHC, we have already given the first jab to over 13,000 people. Moreover, 50 per cent of our people who are above 45 years of age have been convinced to take the injection,” Dr Roshan said.
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