Amid the havoc wreaked by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural areas of the country were among the worst hit. The pandemic affected such areas more due to ill-equipped medical infrastructure as well as lack of facilities and experts.
The story read the same in Ahmednagar’s [Maharashtra] Akole taluka, a village with a population of 25,000, where locals buckled under the weight of the health crisis.
“After contracting COVID-19, patients did not seek medical help for the first couple of days. Later, they underwent an RT-PCR test, but the results came only after a week. By the time the patient could confirm that they had been infected, their health had deteriorated, with oxygen levels dropping to 80 or below,” says Rajendra Sadgir, a primary teacher at the Zilla Parishad school, Parkhatpur.
The village has only one private hospital with 30 beds which started falling short as cases increased. “The next available medical facility is 70 km away at Ghatghar in Ahmednagar. The alternative was to move patients to Pune, Nashik or another city. But calling for an ambulance and transport would only consume more crucial time. Even if the patients could access hospitals in cities, they did not have the money to meet the heavy expenses. The lack of infrastructure resulted in an increased death count. We needed immediate oxygen support,” he tells The Better India.
The health crisis pushed the village to take concerted efforts and raise funds of Rs 33 lakh to create a 60 oxygen bed facility. The infrastructure set up at the primary health centre in Sugaon, around 2 km away from Akole, has saved many lives and helped patients recuperate from the disease for free. What’s more, the villagers set up the facility within a week.
Help pours in from all corners
“Zilla Parishad primary teachers decided to address the situation on WhatsApp groups. At first, we decided to buy oxygen concentrators. But later, we realised the number of units we could afford from our own contribution would be less, and the benefits of the device were limited. A full-fledged oxygen bed set up would serve as a long term solution,” says Rajendra, the coordinator for the initiative.
He adds that setting up an oxygen plant in a short time was unfeasible and expensive. Hence, the teachers decided to contribute money for creating a centralised oxygen bed facility and source oxygen cylinders from the administration.
“About 1,100 primary school teachers contributed Rs 1,000 each, collecting Rs 11 lakh. Inspired by the efforts, secondary school teachers came forward with Rs 12 lakh. Private institutions, donors and people representatives added another Rs 10 lakh. The total amount became Rs 33 lakh within days,” he says.
Rajendra says the village residents procured beds, mattresses, and other equipment to set up the oxygen bed facility. The cylinders were sourced from the revenue department and replenished using government funds. The patients pay for the medications, but there are no charges for bed or oxygen facilities.
Started on 3 May, the COVID-19 oxygen centre has served 250 people and reduced the death rate drastically. “We used to report about 25 deaths a day from the taluka, but saw 21 deaths in the past one month,” he says.
Towards a long-term arrangement
Jagan Borhade, a resident of the village, says, “My health was deteriorating, and I had no means to access oxygen and medication from the city. Moreover, I have no relatives or friends in the cities. The oxygen support within the village helped me save the hassle of travel and I received the treatment for free,” he adds.
Rajendra says plans are underway to establish a ventilator facility now. “We have four BiPAP machines, which is a non-invasive ventilation system. We are setting up ventilator beds,” he adds.
Rajendra also says that efforts are being made to make the infrastructure self-sustained in the long run. “Our village demonstrates an example of how people can unite in times of crisis and work together to help the community at large.”
Edited by Divya Sethu