Unseen Warriors of COVID: In UP's Bijnor, paramedics and local doctors help villagers wary of hospitals

Editor's note: As the second wave of coronavirus infections ravages parts of India, millions of front-line workers and citizens are caught up in the middle, providing their services to distressed families on one hand while trying to cope themselves on the other. This is part thirteen of a series profiling the stories of these people.

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Forty-year-old Madanpal Singh comes from Kasampur village on the banks of the river Ganga. Located near Bijnor city in Uttar Pradesh, his village is one of the many that were severely affected as the second wave of COVID-19 wreaked state.

“There is no family that the disease has left unaffected,” says Singh, adding, “there is at least one individual in each family who is unwell.”

In a total population of 4,000, Singh informs that hundreds have been afflicted with fever while six people have died.

There is no testing. And treatment is being offered on the basis of symptoms and under the assumption that the symptomatic patients are indeed COVID-19 positive. There are both positive and negative consequences of this approach, but it has found acceptance due to the greater possibility of it being a beneficial approach to treatment.

In this moment of crisis, when destruction was imminent in the village, the paramedical staff, who are equipped to offer emergency medical care, saved the village.

“The truth is that those who are scorned in the name of being half-doctors saved our lives,” says Singh as he thanks Niraj Kumar and Tinku Sharma for saving countless lives in the village.

Singh’s eyes are filled with gratitude as he recalls their contribution: “The villagers were uninformed and fearful of the disease. They did not only give them treatment, but also bolstered their spirits."

The second wave of rise in COVID-19 cases, seen to be four times as destructive/intense as the first wave, has wreaked havoc across the country and put both the lives and the livelihood of the common man at risk. The lack of healthcare services and the subsequent oxygen shortage brought chaos affecting everyone be it the rich or the poor, the urban or the rural.

Uttar Pradesh has been one of the worst affected states by the second wave of COVID-19. The virus spread like wildfire in rural areas. Among those who succumbed to the virus, include UP Minister Vijay Kashyap, and two brothers of Union minister Sanjiv Baliyan. The BJP leader's brother Jitendra Baliyan had only recently become the Pradhan of his village. He succumbed to the virus before he could take the oath.

Untested and wary

Dr Danish Ali, a resident of Chandpur area in Bijnor, says that in a period of 50 days, he managed to identify and treat more than 1,000 people with fever and cough.

“Many of these symptoms appeared to be that of COVID-19, but many people did not get tested. They were afraid that if they did get tested, they would be forcibly admitted to the hospital. They have a very negative outlook about the Bijnor government hospital,” says Dr Ali.

Dr Danish Ali says that he managed to identify and treat more than 1000 people in Chandipur area in a period of 50 days. Image courtesy: Aasmohammad Kaif

He, however, informs that people were willing to receive treatment at home.

“We tried our best to treat the patients keeping the government-issued treatment protocol in mind, we boosted their morale and did all this by taking instructions from our senior doctors. I could not sleep for many nights. Now when the disease is on the wane, I feel relief and happiness,” he adds.

Dr Ali informs further that the challenges of treating people at homes were immense. The biggest issue was that of oxygen; out of the patients he saw, around 50 patients’ oxygen levels dropped.

He says that people get very scared when their oxygen levels drop. But even if one gets hold of an oxygen cylinder, flowmeters are hard to find.

“People also don’t want to go to a government hospital, but then they cannot afford private hospitals. They had accepted this as their life’s fate. But when some people started getting better, they became a little confident,” says Dr Ali.

He informs that many of the patients he treated recovered with medicines costing just Rs 300 as he only used some mild antibiotics.

Locals rise up to crisis

In a narrow alley of Saidpuri, a very backward village towards the northern end of Ganga river and about seven kilometres from Bijnor, Dr Anas Faseeh’s clinic is still full of patients from nearby villages.

Purnima Choudhry, the newly elected Pradhan of Puranpur, says that Dr Faseeh is an MD and used to work in Delhi’s Fortis Hospital, but opened this clinic in the village to fulfil his grandfather’s dreams.

“Although the clinic was of benefit to the residents of nearby villages, the benefit has been manifold since the onset of the pandemic. His clinic is a boon and we are grateful to him,” she says.

Dr Anas Faseeh says that the area is backward, but the people have shown great courage and fortitude against the COVID-19 crisis.

“Residents do not have any form of personal transport. They walk many kilometres to reach a doctor. The last two months have been very difficult for the area. People did not have enough money to get treated. The pandemic is a very big crisis and people have faced it with a great deal of courage and fortitude,” he says.

The pandemic pushed Dr Saima Mohsin, an Ayurvedic and natural therapy practitioner, into a different role.

“The growing volume of people with fever and cough worries me greatly. People were very apprehensive about COVID-19 in the village, and they thought it was an inevitable death sentence. We told them that there is a 98 percent chance of recovery in this disease. We used to make them talk to those who had already recovered from it. Apart from the treatment of people, we had to help them in terms of their mental health as well. Now, there are less patients. We have, more or less, survived the pandemic.”

Back in Kasampur village, Niraj Kumar has become a local hero of sorts. He recounts that for the past 50 days, he has not managed to sleep properly at night. He is immersed in work and has not turned anyone away. He fulfils his duty while ensuring that he takes adequate protection in the form of mask, gloves and sanitisers.

A fever survey underway in Bijnor. Image courtesy: Aasmohammad Kaif

His work as a paramedic was made a little easier with the government guidelines on treatment of COVID-19 patients. He used to consult with his seniors frequently as well.

“In this period, I saw more than 500 patients with fever. I have not seen this many in the entire year. I used to check their blood pressure, temperature and oxygen levels, give them the required medication, note it down, and discuss it with my seniors. This is how I worked hard to monitor my patients,” says Niraj.

Courage till the end

Deepak Dhiman, who has fought against COVID-19 and recovered, says that the pandemic has revealed the truth about India’ health system.

He says that people in rural areas are always wary of visiting the city, but with the pandemic, the situation was riddled with many more issues and challenges.

“There were two things which were scaring people from visiting the hospital – the expenses, and the perception of hospitals and how they might treat patients. Although, I believe that people in rural areas have strong immunity, and the benefit of a clean environment helped them survive, the pandemic was nevertheless devastating. Yet, the people have shown immense courage to withstand it.”

Translated from Hindi to English by Shayma S and Sadat Hussain

Read other parts of the series here


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