BENGALURU: Over six months after the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted routine life, volunteers on the ground find that many Bengalureans still lack basic awareness about the virus. They also distrust the government, making it difficult to tackle the spread of Covid in the city’s slums.NGO Mercy Mission, which has been working to tackle the pandemic and related issues for six months, has set up booths across the city, and its volunteers have been going door-to-door to find symptomatic and vulnerable people.
The booths are free health screening camps for those with blood pressure and diabetes, but volunteers are using it to counsel people to get themselves tested for Covid-19.“The main problem is that people in slums don’t know what Covid-19 is, and the government has not educated them. They are scared and self-medicate with paracetamol and Cetrizine if they have symptoms. If they develop breathlessness, they approach PHCs, by which time helping them is a challenge,” said Anas, the NGO’s in-charge for East Zone.
Levying fines for not wearing masks is restricted to developed areas of the city, while slums are largely left out, he says. Nabeela Shah, the NGO’s West Zone in-charge, said there is mistrust among slum-dwellers. “Forced testing and quarantine by the government has built up resistance. Some wonder if Covid-19 really exists. There are rumours that hospitals kill patients and sell their kidneys,” she said.
To create awareness, the NGO performs street plays — in Kannada, Urdu and Tamil — that talk about the importance of hand washing and maintaining distance, early treatment, and that Covid-19 is treatable. “We give free soaps to women to attract them, and use other indirect methods to teach them to adopt precautions,” Nabeela said. “People respond better when officials raise awareness rather than use forceful tactics,” he said.A senior BBMP health inspector said no one came forward to get tested when testing camps were set up in slums in West Zone.
“People think we take healthy individuals to hospitals and don’t understand that they may be asymptomatic. We have stopped sealing down areas and putting up stickers stating a Covid case has been detected in a particular area. Only 10-20% of the educated come forward and get tested. BBMP is doing tests for free, but slum-dwellers don’t understand that,” the health inspector said.