Dead bodies of suspected Covid victims found floating in the Ganga river in Bihar’s Buxar and Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh’s Hamirpur are just some of the indications of the pandemic taking a heavy toll in rural areas. The paucity of testing facilities away from cities leaves no credible reporting mechanism for the number of Covid affected. The dumping of dead bodies in rivers points to stigma or people running out of resources to do cremations.
India’s ramshackle public health system has fewer doctors and nurses available to serve in rural areas, where over 60% of the population lives. The basic requirements of the Covid illness like oxygen and essential drugs may be out of reach for many people. Health experts have suggested emergency measures to boost the available corps of medical staff by mobilising MBBS and nursing students in their final years, those preparing for various examinations like DNB, doctors with foreign degrees, etc. Where policy changes are being made to this end, they need to be implemented fast and well.
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Given the shortage of medical staff and equipment in cities, getting these services to rural areas requires nimble governmental responses. Greater emergency assistance must be sought from international agencies like the United Nations if domestic capacity is unable to scale up to the needs of the hour.
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