Health Clubs aimed to check spread of COVID-19 in rural areas on papers only

H&ME Deptt, RDD sleeping over order since Sept 2020
Non-serious approach responsible for surge in cases: PRIs

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, May 7: In a testimony of non-serious approach on the part of the Health and Medical Education Department and Rural Development Department, the Health Clubs which were announced to be set up at the Panchayat level across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in order to check spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the rural areas have remained on official papers only despite the lapse of several months.
The slack approach has invited sharp criticism from the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), which have held the same responsible for reporting of large number of COVID-19 cases and resultant deaths from the villages during the second wave.
The Financial Commissi-oner, Health and Medical Education Department, Atal Dulloo vide Government Order No.720 dated September 18, 2020 had accorded sanction to the setting up of Health Clubs at Panchayat level in collaboration with the Panchayati Raj Institutions to help in screening and identification of suspects and managing suspects, pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic and very mild cases of COVID-19 infection at the village level across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
It was mentioned that each Health Club will comprise of Sarpanch (Chairman), Panchs, volunteers from the community, Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) from the Sub-Centre (Member Secretary), Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), Anganwari Workers, Booth Level Workers, Self Help Groups and Panchayat Secretary.
Even the guidance document was issued to help Health Club members to enforce the behavioural changes amongst the population for preventing the spread of COVID-19 as well as to detect suspects and monitor for the vitals.
However, despite lapse of several months such Health Clubs have remained on the official papers only mainly because of lack of follow-up action from the Health and Medical Education Department and Rural Development Department, official sources told EXCELSIOR.
“Both these departments had to work in close coordination to ensure setting up of Health Clubs in the shortest possible time by giving proper training and orientation to the Health Club members”, they further said, adding “the Health and Medical Education Department was supposed to provide logistics in the form of non-contract thermometers, finger pulse oxymeter, triple layer masks, gloves and hand sanitizers”.
Moreover, it was the duty of the Health and Medical Education Department to provide training to the teams of the Health Clubs in monitoring temperature of persons under quarantine/isolation, monitoring oxygen saturation with finger pulse oxymeters of persons under quarantine/isolation, surveillance activities in coordination with health authorities, screening and surveillance of travellers arriving in the villages, informing Block Medical Officer of any suspected case of COVID-19, generating awareness and ensuring installation and use of Arogya Setu App by all the villages.
Likewise, the Rural Development Department was to ensure that all Health Clubs work in close coordination with concerned Block Medical Officer and submit weekly reports on number of people screened, number of quarantined persons, number of isolated positive cases and number of referral.
“Had Health Clubs been formally established and all these measures been initiated the spread of COVID-19 to the rural areas could have been checked up to large extent”, sources said, adding “it seems that seriousness towards preventing virus from engulfing the rural areas of the Union Territory was confined to merely issuance of orders about setting up of Health Clubs otherwise more than six months was sufficient time to make them functional in real sense”.
The slackness in setting up of Health Clubs has invited sharp criticism from the Panchayati Raj Institutions, which said, “merely issuance of order was not sufficient to prevent spread of COVID-19 to the rural areas”.
President of All J&K Panchayati Raj Conference Anil Sharma said, “we had welcomed the decision of the Government about setting up of Health Clubs at the Panchayat level but it is a matter of serious concern that there is no follow-up action since September last year”.
“Without wasting further time, the Government should ensure that this mechanism of checking COVID-19 in the rural areas of Union Territory is put in place”, he said, adding “the Panchayati Raj Institutions are ready to provide any sort of assistance to the Government in containing the deadly virus”.
He informed that only Deputy Commissioner Rajouri has issued orders for creation of committees at the Panchayat level for assisting the administration in managing the situation in rural areas of the district.
A number of telephonic calls were made to the concerned officers of the Rural Development Department to ascertain the reasons behind inordinate delay in setting up of Health Clubs but there was no response.
It is pertinent to mention here that Health Clubs can play crucial role in encouraging residents to self-report symptoms and facilitate their testing, isolation and quarantine of contacts; provide counselling, guidance and support to COVID-19 affected individuals and families and provide social support and avoid stigmatization of those under home quarantine/isolation.