Rajender Kumar is a farmer from village Salmkhera in district Fatehabad in Haryana. He died from cardiac arrest on 21th May. His son Vikas Kumar told me that his father was suffering from heart-related problems and they did not have enough money to take treatment from a private hospital. His father does not go to government hospitals because there was a rumor in the village that most people died after going to government hospitals. Rajender Kumar was an illiterate person and believed the hoax, after a few days they were found dead on his farm from a cardiac arrest.
Rajender’s story is not the only story in a rural area where people are afraid to take treatment from government hospitals during this pandemic. When I talked to many villagers from different villages, I found that many of the villagers are taking treatment from uncertified medical practitioners for their minor and serious diseases.
It is the responsibility of the government to empower Panchayat members to conduct hoax-busting Gram Sabhas.
This was a very serious problem for the Indian healthcare system even before COVID-19. Now during pandemics, it’s become worse. In rural areas people have three options for their health services, the first is government hospitals where people aren’t going because of misinformation, the second is private hospitals which are costly to rural peoples so they can’t afford them, and the third is local uncertified medical practitioners. They’re easily available to poor rural peoples.
This is a serious threat to a patient’s life because uncertified practitioners have half knowledge. Their wrong treatment often leads to complications after which patients are recommended to go to doctors. It creates difficulty for doctors if the patient dies and the blame is aimed toward doctors. It also increases the mortality figures of doctors.
To stop this type of misinformation and wrong treatment, the government has taken many steps. The government has started a helpline on WhatsApp called ‘My Government Corona helpline’ and launched a mobile app called ‘Aarogya Setu’ from which people can get verified information about Covid-19 and vaccination. These programs run on digital platforms.
But these programs are not beneficial in rural areas because according to the World Bank Report 2019, only 34.4 percentage Indians have internet facilities.
The government should have run some groundwork to avoid this problem. Government must also communicate using orthodox mediums like health workers and medical officers. They must go into rural areas to aware people of the current situation and try to build confidence in government hospitals.
To better handle this situation, the local administration of rural areas can play an important role like ‘Sarpanch’ and elected Panchayat members because they have direct reach to people and constitutional powers. Local administration bodies can make people aware of misinformation.
For example, a Sarpanch can call a ‘Gram Sabha‘ with health officers to inform people about wrong treatment and hoaxes. To know these types of solutions, I talked to ‘Anil Kumar’, an elected Panchayat member of Salmkhera village. He said the government has not given any kind of instruction. At last, I can only say that rural India is still far away from digital India.