Rural Maharashtra – hospital helpdesks guide families

Imagine you are in a rural area without internet access.  You survived the lockdown of 2020, you may have migrated for work in the past six months.  You may be preparing for the sowing season, after hearing the Indian Meteorological Department’s forecast for a good monsoon in 2021. Worrying about COVID has taken a backseat when suddenly it seems all around you people are falling ill. Some are recovering at home; others are dying.  These appear to be the only two outcomes, as health services are hard to reach, and then too understaffed. Images on the TV are nightmarish, all day long.  Information and misinformation are everywhere.

Ghodegaon rural hospital helpdesk activist gives woman information about vaccination. Image – courtesy SATHI, Pune, April 2021

There is no place to get tested, no place to get treatment, no access to doctors, hospitals, medicines, ventilators.  Vaccine seems a distant dream.   The disease is highly contagious and those who have farmland have taken to camping out on in their fields rather than sleeping at home in their villages.  The landless have no place to go for social distancing.  If you are a single woman in the village, you are even more vulnerable.

Read More: Single women facing pandemic in rural Maharashtra

To provide accurate guidance to people in rural areas, trained health workers are staffing help desks in rural hospitals.  Along with the helpdesks are helplines so that people can get information over the phone before traveling to the hospital. SATHI, a partner of AID for over 20 years, started these helpdesks in the government hospitals and Ambegaon talk and Pune districts in 2020 and is now extending them to Akola and Yavatmal districts. Hingoli, Parbhani, Yavatmal and Nagpur will follow soon.  The second wave of the pandemic has hit rural areas unevenly and timely help can go a long way towards protecting and saving lives.

Recent reports of corruption, denial and bribery for getting hospital care highlight the need for patients to know their rights to health care, know the regulated caps on fees for health services.  SATHI patient advocates talk to families to provide information so that they are not fleeced at the vulnerable time when their families are facing illness.

Update May 5, 2021: AID has sent support to extend the help desks in rural hospitals to 20 blocks of Maharashtra and for 3 months.  These help desks and helplines ensure that rural patients from villages in Maharashtra can get proper guidance and treatment at government hospitals.

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