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COVID-19 preparedness remains a challenge for India’s poor & rural households: survey

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The survey was conducted in 10 states: Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Gujarat

A survey by Sambodhi Panels has revealed that preparedness levels of India’s urban poor and rural population remain abysmally low when dealing with a COVID infection at the household level with many lacking basic medical equipment to gauge vital health parameters.

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, this survey conducted in July 2021, gives a new insight into the preparedness of India’s vulnerable sections of society as the country tries to overcome the devastation caused by the second wave of the pandemic and prepares to meet a distinctly possible third wave.

Among the 7,116 households surveyed only around 20% had thermometers and about 50% had over the counter drugs available to treat symptoms like fever, headaches. However only 9% of the households had Oximeters while a dismal 3% had access to oxygen cylinders. Also, only 40% of respondents were aware of medical suppliers/shops nearby to access in case they had COVID symptoms.

The survey, which was conducted in 10 states: Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Gujarat, revealed that people are largely uninformed about newer variants of COVID-19 virus and the associated symptoms such as diarrhoea, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, etc.

The respondents also showed a lack of understanding on when to hospitalize a COVID positive person. About 35% of the respondents said that patients should be hospitalized at the onset of the first symptom, while 18% were of the view that a positive COVID result was reason enough to get the person admitted in a hospital. This of course has implications for the already stretched healthcare system as it can result in hospital overcrowding and increased burden on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers.

While close to all respondents (95%) were able to associate at least one of the early symptoms to COVID such as fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing and headaches, only 18% of respondents associated diarrhoea with COVID and a fewer number – 4% and 2% with conjunctivitis and skin rashes respectively.

It seems that there is a need to increase information dissemination among vulnerable sections of society on newer COVID variants, associated symptoms and recommended treatment protocols, so that people take appropriate measures in providing care to COVID patients.

Swapnil Shekhar, Co-Founder, Sambodhi said, “Given how dynamic the course of this pandemic is, we cannot afford extensive lead times that accompany primary surveys. We need rapid generation of data insights to meet urgent response needs in crisis situations. Further, we need data collection across time periods to be able to study trends and forecast to be able to plan for the future.”

The survey did show that awareness about homecare for COVID patients were high among respondents, with 88% of the people able to identify at least one practice such as isolation in a room, wearing a mask, and using separate utensils, towels, bedding for COVID patients among the measures that were to be adopted.

“It is obvious that large sections of society are still not fully versed with how they should act if someone in their family gets infected. And this knowledge is critical to avoid mistakes that can become life-threatening. We will be conducting a second round of data collection on the same indicators to understand how preparedness levels for COVID have changed over time,” Swapnil added.

Also, around 70% of respondents said they had arrangements for isolating COVID positive family members and 76% said they would be able to make food arrangements.

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