Protect 10 million most marginalized people from COVID-19
October 11, 2021
Kutch Fish Producers’ Organization works in the Kutch area with the fishing community reaching a population of approximately 10000 people. They also have a focus on women and women’s health in the area.
Looking for a Chance at Life
A 25 year old boy couldn’t make it. His aging parents took him from one hospital to another. The Adani hospital was not yet opened as the COVID center; two other COVID centers had no beds. They rushed him from Kutch to Bhuj but it was too late. He was part of the labor union here and always came forward to serve people. And yet, he had to die because our system failed him. He died without a chance at healthcare.
The second wave has hit us hard. During the first wave, Kutch wasn’t affected much. There were hardly any cases. However, this time there are just too many cases. It has spread like wildfire. There are not enough testing kits, oxygen is scarce and hospital beds are only a fraction of the requirement. Hospitals are completely overcrowded, handling long queues without any system for physical distancing.
Protect 10 million most marginalized people from COVID-19
There is very poor awareness among the fishing community. Much less compared to others. They are still coming together for various occasions. They come into the village everyday even though they are at the harbor now. This regular interaction with the regular villagers is the route of the virus spreading to them. The entire community is infected. In pre COVID times, the nurses from the government facilities used to visit them once a month. But now the health system is completely overburdened and these visits are discontinued. For any treatment, including COVID care, they have to travel all the way here. Even during pre COVID times, their health was a challenge. They spend 8 months at the harbor without proper toilet facilities, sanitation and any access to healthcare. This has only compounded during the pandemic.
The livelihoods of most people, especially the fisherfolks are also poorly affected. Though production is ongoing, the markets are hit hard. In fact, most of them have to buy their ration and even that is not available. It’s difficult to give a concerted effort this time on any one issue. The struggle is in all directions. While in the last wave, livelihoods recovery was the main focus, in this wave one is beaten from all directions. Medicines are in short supply. Food is not accessible. Even those already registered on PDS, have not been receiving ration for the last two months. Over 300 people from the Bhadreswar fishing community are being shown as deactivated on the system. We have filed an RTI application and have written to the department. It’s an immediate need that people are linked to the health and non health government social protection schemes.
As an organization, we are getting most help from people. Though most people are afraid of coming out, it is still the volunteers who are the lifeline in this pandemic. While we work with the government closely, at this moment the system is in a state of mayhem. There is barely any support coming from there. We have created volunteer groups for oxygen and cremation, especially for incoming migrant workers who have no one to do their last rites.
Women are worst affected. They are usually given least priority for treatment. They are doubly and triply burdened. They need to take care of the household even if they are infected with COVID-19. There have been many instances of increased domestic violence. affected by double burden, and responsibility. Earlier they could at least share with others and get some relief, have some mental respite. But now it’s difficult for them to share with other women since no one is going out and they can’t talk on the phone from their homes as their family members are always at home.
In the first wave, women’s income was mainly affected, especially those single mothers and widows. Many women from the community came forward to support them with groceries for 2-3 months. But this time people are scared and overwhelmed. They are not going out or coming forward to help each other. Here, community members usually help each other. This is the only time, people are not coming forward even to do what’s possible with physical distancing. There is a stigma with COVID.
It’s imperative now to be proactive and introspective at the same time. We need to create more awareness on COVID, particularly on vaccines to address hesitation and myths. Because of an increase in cases, there is also an increased eagerness to get vaccinated. At the same time, we need to create a cadre of women community based COVID volunteers, like the ASHA workers. Women already play the role of caregivers. Select women should be trained in the basics of COVID care. Information on any problems should be quickly communicated to the government for timely resolution. The systems are already in place. We need to find the gaps, work on it, and build capacities to strengthen the system.
(as told to Soumita Basu, Covid Action Collaborative)
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