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An Overview Of The Catastrophic Second Wave In West Bengal

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories, and West Bengal has been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban citizens were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein, even to see for the last time ones who succumbed to the coronavirus became an act of privilege.

West Bengal
Focusing on the rural realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘Rural Realities | West Bengal Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages’ on May 25, 2021.

This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Manoswini Sarkar and the IMPRI team, who provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation in India with special reference to West Bengal to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.

About West Bengal

West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the most densely populated state, second only to Bihar. Its total population is estimated to be around 10 crore people (according to Census 2011). It is also the fourteenth-largest state by area in India. It is located in the eastern part of the country, bordered by the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Sikkim, Assam and the countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. It also contains high peaks of the Himalayas in the northern peaks and the Bay of Bengal in the South.

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Source: IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk

West Bengal has 23 districts – north 24, south 24, Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Hooghly, Nadia, Howrah, Kolkata, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Bankura, Birbhum, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Purulia, Coochbehar, Paschim Bardhaman, Purba Bardhaman, Jhargram, Alipurduar, Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Some of the major cities include Kolkata, Asansol, Siliguri, Durgapur, Bardhaman and Darjeeling among others.

indi
Source: IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk

In contemporary times, with regard to socio-economic indicators, Bengal performs above national average on social indices in terms of sex ratio, literacy rate, infant mortality rate and overall human development index. However, SDG (14) and per-capita income ranks (20th position) are quite low.

Second Wave Of Covid-19

With respect to the Covid-19 pandemic, West Bengal has been one of the worst-hit cases and high fatality rate. There had been around 10 lakh positive cases; on May 21, 2021, the State had reported around 1.5 lakh active cases. The numbers during the second wave have especially been jarring.

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Source: IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk

Experts say prolonged state elections campaign since March helped Covid cases jump especially in rural Bengal. There was almost a 40-fold increase in the number of cases, with most medical professionals blaming the mass gatherings at election rallies for the huge surge in the disease. The two worst-hit districts have been Kolkata and North 24 Parganas. The West Bengal administration was lax in handing the second wave with announcing no restrictions or curfew and has only recently announced a lockdown.

poll
Source: IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk

The state of West Bengal reported 12,84,973 cases till May 25, 2021. According to the health department, cumulatively, 1,86,41,290 people have been vaccinated in the state, out of which 41,30,583 have received both doses of vaccine. The daily positive confirmation rate, which was nearly 33% at the peak of the second wave, has plummeted to 3.45. A decreasing positive confirmation rate is indicative of reducing levels of Covid spread.

Counting The Dead

According to a health bulletin issued by the state government, 157 persons succumbed to the virus. Numbers continue to be on the higher side in North 24 Parganas, where 46 deaths were reported, followed by the State capital with 33 deaths.

In the month of May 2021, North 24 Parganas recorded the highest number of cases in the state at 1,11,981, followed by 96,126 in Kolkata. These two were followed by South 24 Parganas’ 33,639, Howrah’s 33,589 cases and 30,410 in Hooghly. These districts in the epicentre were closely followed by Nadia (28,088 cases in a month), East Midnapore (22,051), West Burdwan (21,732) and West Midnapore (20,015).

Emerging Issues

The state hasn’t hit its peak yet, but is already running out of oxygen beds. Consumption of medical oxygen went up from 470 MT to 550 MT. The state government plans to set up 55 oxygen plants at state-run hospitals. As of April 29, 1.02 crores vaccines have been administered. However, since May 1, 2021, most private facilities have closed inoculation drives due to the paucity of vaccines.

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Source: IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk

Though Kolkata and its neighbouring districts have been the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bengal since it began, more districts outside this hotbed of infection logged a consistent rise in cases during the second wave and emerged as areas of concern for the state health department along with North 24 Parganas, where the infection count has been far higher than the capital this time around.

Though the vaccination drive has focused mostly on Kolkata and its neighbouring districts, the government is keen on quickly stepping up inoculation in the seven to eight new areas of concern.

Way Forward

To mitigate the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, collaboration with relevant stakeholders is needed. Information has to be disseminated in a simple and lucid language for easier accessibility. Post-Covid care centres also need to be established to address the needs of post-virus complications.

The state government of West Bengal has set up a high-level committee to effectively minimise the impact of second wave and prepare for a third wave in moving towards healthy and prosperous West Bengal.

Contributors: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Manoswini Sarkar, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar and the IMPRI Team

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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