From SKMS: A COVID storm approaches

In Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh, Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS) has been confronting the challenge of spreading awareness about COVID even as the state government pretends there is no problem. Started by rural women in predominantly Dalit communities in 2005, SKMS has built its strength to around 5000 members in more than 90 villages. Its work includes projects on agriculture, rural employment, disaster relief, and several other initiatives. 

AID has been in touch with SKMS about any possible assistance. Richa Singh, founding member of SKMS, is clear that the biggest need at the moment is that of oxygen. An urgent need is to procure oxygen concentrators, which are selling out quickly and for inflated prices. There is a single District Hospital in Sitapur with some 50 beds, zero ventilators, and no oxygen. Even the best private hospital in the district, with otherwise decent facilities, has no oxygen. People are fleeing to Lucknow in search for care, however the condition in the capital is no better, and many are losing their loved ones in this search.

There has been news of deaths everywhere: the initial ones were attributed to cough and cold, however it took a long time to connect the dots and realize that it was in fact COVID. Raising awareness has been a major focus for SKMS. Volunteers are providing training on recognizing symptoms and admistering basic medicines such as paracetamol. They are also explaining techniques like gargling and breathing in prone position. Their intention is to keep people calm but alert, and not to scare anyone into panic. Their immediate priority is to minimize the number of hospitalizations and ensure that people receive home care to the extent possible.

At the same time, the people know that the second wave could last for months. They are already thinking of the potential economic impact. Due to a reasonable harvest the previous year, there are no immediate food shortages. However, it is not clear what the situation will be after several weeks.

The only way out of this situation is to vaccinate a large percentage of the population. However, our partners mention that people are perhaps even more afraid of a potential vaccine than of COVID. It will be important to address vaccine hesitancy in subsequent awareness programs. With only around 2% of India having been fully vaccinated, the SKMS volunteers can only hope that when the people finally make it to the clinics, the government has enough vaccines available.  

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