With people from the advisai community in Visakhapatnam getting COVID-19, activists are seeking more proactive measures from authorities to prevent the spread of the virus. The communities in the region already have poor access to healthcare systems, and are in an extremely vulnerable position if the transmission of the coronavirus worsens, activists say.
Ever since the nation-wide lockdown was eased, five people in various parts of Paderu Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) region were diagnosed with COVID-19. “Visakha Agency is a critical area. Not just during the pandemic, it’s a core area where malaria is prevalent as well. In such a situation, if people are exposed to a disease like COVID-19, things can turn out to be disastrous,” says Ramarao Dora, Visakhapatnam District Convenor of the Adivasi Joint Action Committee (JAC).
In case a patient in Paderu contracts the virus, they would have to travel 150-200 kms all the way to Vizag to be able to access treatment, he notes.
All the five patients who have got COVID-19 so far, had arrived in the area after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. Paderu Additional DMHO (District Medical and Health Officer) Dr Leela Prasad says that three of the patients were police constables, who had returned to resume their duties. The other two, he says, are people from the adivasi community, who had returned from Anantapur and East Godavari districts recently. The five cases were reported from Annavaram, Chintapalle, Gudem Kottha Veedhi and Koyyuru villages.
With this, local organisations and communities have decided to impose a lockdown on their own. Ramarao Dora says that JAC members have spoken to local vendors, traders and shopkeepers, and made announcements on mics, to restrict business from 6 am to 1 pm. “People have been cooperating, and so far even the police and ITDA officials have been supportive of the self-imposed lockdown measures,” Ramarao Dora says.
But the organisation is asking authorities to impose tighter restrictions on people entering the area from other places. “When the nation-wide lockdown restrictions were lifted, we wrote to authorities on June 8 asking to continue to restrict movement across the Agency’s border checkposts, and to continue restrictions on tourist activities and weekly markets, where vendors from outside often participate. Now we have seen five cases, as foreseen. We are now seeking stricter restrictions from the government on people entering the area,” Ramarao Dora adds.
Paderu ITDA Project Officer Venkateswar Salijamala says that containment measures are in place in the areas where the patients have been identified so far. “The restrictions on the containment zones will go on for four weeks. Contact tracing, containment and sanitation measures are being followed like any other area across the state. But we can’t put any additional restrictions other than containment zones,” he says, while adding that anyone coming to the Agency area from other places is being asked to observe home quarantine.
However, in some parts of the state like Ongole and Anantapur, district authorities have imposed partial or complete lockdown measures because of the increase in the number of people contracting the virus.
According to officials, so far, only the primary contacts of the detected patients have been tested.
“All the five patients detected so far had been in quarantine after coming back from other parts of the state to Paderu. They were under quarantine and the tests came back positive. We got their contacts also tested, so far all the contacts have tested negative,” ITDA Project Officer Venkateswar says.
No testing at community level has been done so far, Additional DMHO Dr Leela Prasad adds.
Considering the vulnerability of the region in terms of access to healthcare, and the spread of the disease in other parts of the state and everywhere else, the JAC has demanded extensive testing at the community level. At present, while tests are being done at Paderu, the nearest COVID-19 hospitals are in Vizag.
“We need the government to test everyone in the tribal areas, not just outsiders. There’s always the possibility of people not following quarantine,” says Ramarao Dora, adding that once the virus starts to spread in the tribal communities, patients will have to travel 150-200 kms all the way to Vizag to access medical care.
The JAC has demanded that the government must give special attention to tribal communities. “They must test extensively in Agency areas, and continue lockdown until then,” says Ramarao Dora.