Jafra News – When health worker Neelam Kumari knocks on the doors of homes in Indian villages, family members often rush out from the back doors lest she wants to vaccinate them against COVID-19.
In parallel with the decline in the number of HIV infections in cities, the epidemic is sweeping the vast remote rural areas that suffer from poverty. But in these areas ignorance and fear prevail.
“Many people in my village don’t want to get vaccinated. They fear death if they catch,” Kumari from Datrath town in Haryana state told AFP.
“One of the villagers got angry and even hit a (health) worker who was trying to convince him to get the vaccine,” she added.
Only 15 percent of rural residents received a single dose of the vaccine, compared to 30 percent in towns and cities, with two-thirds of cases reported in rural areas, according to an analysis by The Hindu daily.
Rumors spread online and on messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Concerns that the 5G network is causing COVID-19 have led to mobile phone towers being attacked in Haryana.
“People don’t come for tests because they think the government will announce they have Covid even if they are not infected,” Shoeib Ali, a doctor in Miagang village in Uttar Pradesh state, told AFP.
– Deaths after injection –
This fear prevails despite the sightings of corpses lying in rivers and hundreds of shallow graves, suggesting the pandemic is continuing to spread in India’s hinterland, where 70 percent of the population of 1.3 billion reside.
In Nuran Kera village in Haryana state, residents are reluctant to get vaccinated despite saying that many family members have developed fever and dozens of people are dying.
“Even after opening a vaccination center here, no one is ready to receive it,” 45-year-old villager Rajesh Kumar told AFP.
“I will not receive the vaccine because it causes many side effects,” he added.
In other states there were reports of people jumping into rivers or fleeing into forests to escape mobile health crews.
Hum Kumari, a health worker in Batu Jamalpur village in Uttar Pradesh state, said it was impossible to convince some people.
She asked, “How do we respond to someone who says ‘If it is my destiny to live, I will live even without the vaccine’?”
Health facilities are few and far between and some people think that going to a public hospital is more dangerous than not going there.
“The people who went to the hospital never came back,” said another villager, Kuldeep, in Nuran Kera.
Villager Rajesh Kumar recounted that when his wife fell ill, a private clinic requested 50,000 rupees ($700) in advance for her treatment. A doctor at a public hospital asked to take her home.
“The neighbors started saying that she had corona. They were afraid,” he said, adding, “I took care of her, and on the third day she recovered.”
– key to communication –
The epidemic has dealt a severe blow to the Indian economy, and health expert Rajib Dasguppet says villagers often fear that they will not be able to provide for their livelihood.
“It is very difficult to convince them of the importance of a vaccine in alleviating some of these difficult conditions,” Dasgupta told AFP.
Experts say India needs to apply the lesson learned from the polio vaccination campaign in the 2000s to children under five.
The program was successful thanks to the intervention of local leaders to spread the message that vaccination is safe.
In a similar fashion, religious leaders in Uttar Pradesh were recently called to encourage their followers to take the Corona vaccine.
Navneet Singh, the supervisor of vaccination efforts in the Jind district of Haryana state, said that close contact has helped nearly 70 percent of people over 45 years old in Kalwa and nearby villages receive at least one dose of the vaccine.
Kalua health worker Sheila Devi confirmed that “her heart was beating fast” when her name was put on the vaccination list, but she was reassured when she saw the local doctor receiving the injection.
“They gradually became convinced that even if they contracted corona after receiving the vaccine, they would not need hospital treatment. They can take medicines and recover at home,” the 45-year-old told AFP.