How Vadodara kept its Covid numbers low
With close to 11,000 cases, Gujarat is among the worst Covid-affected states, faring better than only Maharashtra. But among its prominent cities, Vadodara has done remarkably well to keep the number of cases low. The city recorded 691 cases as of May 17, as against 8,000 cases in Ahmedabad and 1,033 in Surat. While the death toll was 32 in Vadodara, it was 493 in Ahmedabad and 49 in Surat. But how was this achieved?
The Vadodara administration emphasised on aggressive Covid testing from the start in order to isolate suspected cases and prevent the spread of the infection. But, as was evident early on, a section of the city’s over 11 per cent Muslim population was reluctant to step forward and get tested, and there were also reports of their non-cooperation with health workers carrying out door-to-door surveillance. Among them were members of the Tablighi Jamaat, who had returned from their organisation’s congregation in New Delhi in March.
To try and bring around this section of the population, state education secretary Vinod Rao, who is also the COVID-19 operations in-charge for Vadodara, began tapping NGOs and organisations considered to have influence in the Muslim community. That Rao enjoyed a stature in Vadodara helped—as municipal commissioner in 2017-2018, he had played a key role in the city’s clean-up and beautification.
In the first week of April, Rao shortlisted half a dozen organisations and, among them, chose the Baroda Muslim Doctors Association (BMDA) for the outreach job. The BMDA, led by its president Dr Mohammad Hussain Agarbattiwala, is a network of healthcare professionals operating in Vadodara city and its adjoining tehsils. The organisation not only came onboard but also offered the hostel of the Ebrahim Bawany Industrial Training Institute in the city as a dedicated Covid isolation facility.
Rao and Vadodara district collector Shalini Agarwal, however, wanted the BMDA to go a step further and convince the apprehensive members of the Muslim community to agree to Covid testing. According to the BMDA, one of the reasons for non-cooperation by some Muslims was the suspicion that this could be a closet identification exercise of the government towards the objectives of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). “The fear of an NRC survey being carried out was one of the reasons for non-cooperation by some of our Muslims brothers. But once we allayed their fears, they were on track,” says Agarbattiwala.
About 150 of the BMDA’s 350 members got down to working with the Muslim community to ensure their cooperation. The BMDA has a very good rapport with the city’s Muslims, having organised since its inception in 2012 about 8,000 medical camps for the community, particularly to address the problem of malnutrition among children. BMDA doctors started accompanying Covid testing teams to the affected Muslims localities and convinced the local leaders to ask people to cooperate. Around the second and third week of April, Agarbattiwala and his colleagues managed to get some 400 Muslims to come out and get tested
Another reason for the lack of cooperation had been that many suspected Covid patients among Muslims were asymptomatic. BMDA teams had to convince them that not all COVID-19 patients showed the usual symptoms of persistent cough, fever and breathing trouble. Many came around when they learnt that even non-Muslim asymptomatic cases had been isolated at the industrial training institute hostel-turned-Covid facility.
So far, 200 Covid patients have been discharged from the makeshift hospital after recovery while another 100 are admitted. Encouraged by the BMDA, the patients who have recovered have given their nod for donating plasma for treating Covid cases. “This is a great turnaround—those who were at one time unwilling to cooperate with the anti-Covid drive are now ready to donate their plasma,” says Rao. “This shows what all can be achieved through proper dialogue using the right channels.”
Courtesy : India Today