Health Clubs and COVID-19 in rural areas


I t has been both the strategy as well as the aim of the Government to prevent spread of COVID19 virus in rural areas from cities and towns as witnessed last year during the ”arrival ” of the virus in the country. Rural areas being sensitive and vulnerable in many ways and on comparative basis, the treatment facilities being also quite limited, the UT Government of Jammu and Kashmir had proposed and sanction was duly accorded to setting up of what was called as ‘Health Clubs’. The main objective being to prevent the spread of the virus and composition of such clubs being varied in form and the link and the base level being Panchayats, these clubs would have contributed a lot in preventing the spread had those been put in place within a reasonable time. The onus of setting up and making functional such Health Clubs, being on Health and Medical Education Department in close cooperation with the Rural Development Department, unfortunately the proposal and the sanction related papers have not moved beyond office tables. Even though the proposal had immense advantages when translated into reality right from mass awareness to identifying and screening the suspected carriers or infected ones and managing presymptomatic , asymptomatic and mild cases of infections at the base village level, yet due to casual approach of both these departments and no followup from higher authorities is beyond comprehension. It can be seen that such Health Clubs were slated to comprise Sarpanch of the Panchayat as its Chairman, Panchs, Volunteers, Auxiliary Nurse Midwife from the sub-centre, social activists, Anganwari workers and others associated with these clubs could really have made much of a difference on account of indulging in actual field work in detecting, preventing and even treating the affected at the village levels. As for providing minimum and basic medical advice and related support, the proposal of Health Clubs had the important provisions of imparting necessary training and orientation to such Health Club members which means at the initial stages of the infection and even during home quarantine or isolation, advice , follow-up and monitoring would really have brought very positive results. It could also work in the other way – to lighten the burden on the GMCs and other designated hospitals. The casual approach of the concerned departments has been criticised and even resented to by the Panchayati Raj Institutions across Jammu and Kashmir who expected both number of cases of infections and the resultant deaths during the ferocious second wave to have been quite less than reported from various rural areas. Though the President of All J&K Panchayati Raj Conference had welcome such a decision of the Government but even after more than seven months, nothing practical could take place, was least expected. There is no fun in preparing attractive but increasingly needed proposals and schemes unless implemented and made operational on the ground. We fail to understand that when even up to the levels of issuing the guidance document to help Health Club members in preventing spread and creating awareness in respect of the pandemic , why the matter could not proceed further even in respect of providing logistics like thermometers, gloves, finger pulse oxymeters, sanitizers triple layer masks and taking steps towards installation and use of Aarogya Setu App by all the villages. The need of the hour is to pool all resources available to somehow stop and prevent the spread of the horrendous second wave of COVID-19 virus and in formulating schemes and plans, rural areas must get preferred attention. We, therefore, hope that the UT Government looks into the issue and proceed ahead to implement the proposal of setting up of Health Clubs in rural areas at an early date.