Elders and village headmen and women have become active agents of the battle to protect the state from corona virus
E Mawrie, who works as a cook in a hotel in Shillong, has not seen his family since early June, when Meghalaya was passing through stretches of lockdown and a brief relief from it.
But the 36-year-old is not unduly worried as his family stays in a village, some 86 km from the capital.
The village, he claims, is among the most protected places to live in this pandemic.
“My village strictly follows a 14-day isolation rule. Anyone who lands up there will have to stay in the community quarantine centre for a while.
“The villagers are monitoring the situation very closely,” he says over the phone, adding that he misses his family but “it is better that I bide my time here.”
Northeastern states such as Meghalaya and Manipur have devised their own unique ways of keeping life going around while maintaining social distancing and sticking to the norms of the lockdown.
“Even if shops are unmanned, people pick up what they want and put the money into a cash jar. This has fortuitously contributed to social distancing. Of course, testing is also being carried on,” said Sampath Kumar, Meghalaya’s Commissioner and Secretary of Health &Family Welfare.
Such measures, particularly the ones roping in the local population and village elders, have kept the northeastern states in the bottom half of the national Covid-19 tally
Meghalaya, with a population of 41 lakh (4.1 million), has done comparatively better nationally in containing the pandemic.
Despite the latest trend of a spike, the state has been able to contain the corona virus.
It has managed to keep the numbers under control by stringent implementation of lockdown rules, both by the government and the citizens.
Such measures, particularly the ones roping in the local population and village elders, have kept the northeastern states in the bottom half of the national Covid-19 tally.
These states have been able to successfully combine their traditional ways of life with the lifestyle required to keep the virus away.
In Meghalaya, those entering the state have to undergo two layers of testing: a rapid test followed by the more accurate RT-PCR.
Those testing positive go to Covid centres and the negative cases are put in home isolation for 14 days.
In the capital, Shillong, all hotels have been converted into quarantine centres.
To keep its ears to the ground, the state government has set up 7,000-odd COVID committees, headed by village headmen and women.
The committee members generate awareness, distribute self-help journals and keep tabs on the health of senior citizens in their areas.
“We are focusing on behavior change management and recording details for all the 41 lakh people in the state,” said Sampath Kumar.
However, in its fight against Covid, the state government has been hamstrung by a growing shortage of doctors even as the number of COVID-19 cases has begun rising in the state.
“There is a shortage of more than 100 doctors as per the present vacant posts. The health department could not even get 50 doctors to appoint on a contractual basis for tackling the COVID-19 situation,” Health Services director Aman War said.
“We have advertised for the post of doctors in the state as well as outside the state but no one had come forward (to apply),” he said.
According to the senior health department official, there are over 800 doctors in different government hospitals, Community Health Centres (CHCs) and Public Health Centres (PHCs) across the state and all are actively working to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shortage is mainly due to the fact that many doctors are refusing to work in state government hospitals after completing their medical education, he said.
Many of them, he pointed out, have paid the bond amount for not working in state government hospitals after completing their medical education in the state.
“Over Rs 3 crore was collected as bond amount penalty from such doctors in two years,” War said.
Even though the bond amount has been increased to Rs 30 lakh, many doctors are still reluctant to join.