COVID-19 pandemic posed a huge challenge to the overall health system and healthcare human resources across India.The rapid spread and impact of the initial waves of the pandemic pushed health ecosystem to repurpose significant time and resources in tackling the pandemic.The pandemic also caused an intense amount of fear and confusion among communities.
With an already-existing resource crunch, it was even more difficult for health facilities in rural and remote districts of India. Carrying out routine work while coping with the COVID-19 pandemic added to the existing challenges of lack of resources, catering to people living in hard-to-reach areas, limited availability of healthcare human resources, etc.
Dr Yogita Ramesh Gavit’s experience of sailing through the pandemic as the Community Health Officer at Dongegaon Primary Health Cenre of Nandurbar district in Maharashtra depicts all of these challenges.During the first wave of COVID-19 she started working at this health centre. The centre caters to four villages of Shahi, Nizampur, Palipan and Kasare village of Navapur block. Soon after she started working, she was appointed at the NandurbarCovid Centre. Dr Ramesh, other staffs of the PHC and many ASHA workers carried out COVID duty and also continued their routine work as much as possible throughout the different phases of the pandemic.
She looked after COVID-19 patients, monitored their vitals including blood pressure and oxygen levels, and provided medicine herself. Eventually in the process she herself got infected as well. Often, she paid for the medicines that the patients needed. Most of her patients were going through severe loss of livelihooddue to nation-wide lock down that was necessary for containing COVID-19. Misinformation-fuelled stigma made it worse for her and other health workers. Along with the fear of infection, ailment, and death there was a deep sense of dismay rooted from the fear of being secluded from loved ones. The fear in turn was acting as a fodder for spread of misinformation. This often resulted in facing verbal abuse from community members when Dr Yogita Ramesh or a front-line health worker would reach out to the community to encourage them to get tested. Similar amount of resistance was faced when they started the vaccination drive. People would threaten out of fear, refuse to come out or hide themselves in their houses.
It took enormous amount of resilience for Dr Yogita and her team to address the fear. They continued to reach out to the community through routine work as well as all other potential routes. They collated all the support that were available and eventually managed to help people understand the importance of timely screening, abiding by COVID-appropriate behaviour and vaccination to minimise the spread and impact of COVID-19.