Church network helps healthcare workers fight COVID-19 in India’s rural areas

An Indian health worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a COVID-19 coronavirus screening site on Oct. 29. India on that day passed eight million coronavirus cases, with the world's second-worst-hit country bracing for a possible second wave ahead of winter and a series of religious festivals. (Photo by Money Sharma/AFP via LiCAS.news)

As India passes 8 million new coronavirus infections, the Catholic Hospitals Association in India (CHAI) is helping healthcare workers in the country’s more remote areas deal with the pandemic.

Despite the federal government announcing a countrywide lockdown in March, cases in the country rapidly spread; especially in remote rural areas where health experts say there has been less awareness on how to combat the virus; resulting in a reduced adherence to social distancing especially among large families which has contributed to surging cases of COVID-19. 

Jagdish Kumar, a general physician in the small-sized city of Azamgarh in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said most of the infected patients his hospital receives are from families where more than 10 to 15 people live in a single house.

“This is very much common in India’s countryside where you find children, their parents, their grandparents, their uncles and aunts all living under one roof,” Kumar told LiCAS.news.

“Home isolation in such cases is not possible and that is why if one person of a family gets infected with the virus, a long chain is formed,” Kumar said.

Government data says 65 percent of India’s population lives in rural areas, mostly earning a livelihood through traditional farming methods. Most of this population generally lacks access to basic health care facilities and awareness about diseases including COVID-19.

Dr Seema Gupta, a senior cardiologist working in India’s eastern state of Bihar’s rural belt, offered a description of woeful health services in rural areas where most providers are lacking basic equipment. 

“You hardly even find temperature guns available for hospital staff. There are even no hand sanitizers available for the doctors. Imagine the severity of coronavirus cases in these places,” she told LiCAS.news. 

National network

To help address such shortfalls the Catholic Hospitals Association in India (CHAI), which has a national network of 3,572 healthcare and social service institutions, has been conducting online courses for healthcare workers.

A health worker checks a nasal swab sample collected from a resident during a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for the new coronavirus in Srinagar on Oct. 29. (Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)
The association’s director-general Father Dr. Mathew Abraham said courses are designed to equip healthcare workers deal with the ongoing crisis. 

“An estimated 1,500 doctors and hospital staff have been imparted training about the ways to tackle the ongoing pandemic. All this is being done to address the prevalent crises and help our country to somehow flatten the curve,” he said.

Father Mathew said CHAI is also equipping hospitals in rural regions with screening facilities, helping with establishing clinics and the referral of critical cases to larger care facilities. 

“Improvised personal protective equipment has been provided [by CHAI] to more than 50 hospitals in need,” he added.

More than 120,000 people have died from the disease in India so far. It is the world’s second-worst-hit country and it is bracing for a possible second wave ahead of winter. - LiCAS.news