Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
When I stepped into the Community Health Centre in the riverside town of Dharchula – around three hours ahead of Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand – I was somewhat familiar with the challenges that health workers had been facing, while setting up testing and vaccination camps during the second wave of COVID-19.
I was, in equal parts, aware of the multiplier effect that one must apply, while trying to understand life in the hills – that the troubles of a person in the hills are ten times more than that of someone facing the same problem in the plains.
At the CHC, I met Dr Shalini Firmal, who was slated to lead a three-member COVID-19 screening health team to Jumma village, about an hour away from Dharchula.
“We are around five members and we are allotted villages by our senior sir. Following that, we leave for the villages above,” she said, while introducing me to Kavita and Nikhil, in charge of conducting tests and providing medicines respectively.
A Risky Journey
At about 10 am, the team, equipped with 100 COVID-19 testing kits and medicines left for Jumma village in a vehicle provided by the health department. It is during this journey that Kavita, an auxiliary nurse midwife, opened up about the many challenges that come with setting up testing camp in the villages.
The 28-year-old mentioned how they often have to trek for hours to remote villages, a journey that can be risky, to say the least.
"“Yesterday, I was going to conduct a test camp in a village named Khela. The climb to it involved a steep rocky slope. Since I couldn’t find anyone to carry the medicines and other material, I tied them to my scarf and walked up. The other sister with me was carrying the bag. While I was climbing up, the scarf gave way and I had a narrow escape.”" - Kavita, Health Worker
On her way to a government school in Jumma – the designated testing site – Kavita stopped the vehicle a couple of times and informed villagers about the health camp. But while most nodded away, Kavita remained skeptical about their eventual turnout.
“They said yes, but it remains to be seen if they actually turn up for the testing camp,” she remarked.
Village Head, ASHAs Missing
After an hour of traveling on a road that cannot really be called one, the team reached the testing venue, located on the top of a hill. I thought to myself, “oh, now that we have reached the village, half the battle is won.” My celebratory thoughts, however, turned out to be extremely premature.
Upon reaching the village, the team found the local ASHA workers as well the village chief missing. Worse still, the school was locked and the team didn’t have any space where they could set up a camp.
Since there’s no Indian network in the village, the team had to borrow the phone of a local and dial the village chief. It seemed that neither the chief, nor villagers were aware of the testing camp being held.
Attempting to explain what could have led to such a situation, Dr Shalini told me that usually, camps are organised following requests from village chiefs.
However, since Jumma is a remote village without any network, there's been a communication gap. “The road here is dangerous as well,” she said.
While team waited for the chief and ASHA workers to arrive and for the school to be unlocked, villagers, growing increasingly furious over what they called a complete “lack of communication”, spoke of just how important it was for them to get tested.
Through them I learnt that almost every other household in the village had experienced fever-like symptoms a couple of weeks back and had recovered on their own. So far, no COVID-19 testing camp had been set up in Jumma and villagers were desperate for getting screened for the virus.
"“People here are poor and cannot afford the means to travel to the market. Due to lockdown, cab fares are high as well. People face difficulties is travelling to and from the testing centre. This is why no one went to get tested and stayed put in their home. Those who had fever recovered at home. Even now, some people have fever. Villagers want testing to be conducted.”" - A villager said.
Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed once again as the health team decided to go back without testing, after having waited for two hours. By the time they left, neither the village chief, nor any villagers had shown up for testing.
It is then that I told my cameraperson Shiv that “I had expected it to be a tough job. But, never did I expect the team to go back without testing.”
. Read more on Videos by The Quint.How IYC’s Srinivas BV And Team Help Distressed COVID-19 PatientsGot My First Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine, So Should You . Read more on Videos by The Quint.