GUWAHATI: At the forefront of Assam’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is civil servant Pomi Baruah.
As the State Nodal Officer of the 104 helpline desk, she was instrumental in collecting data about people, including Tablighi Markaz attendees, who had gone into hiding for fear of stigma or ostracization.
Based on the data shared by the desk, the District Magistrates (DMs) managed to zero in on over 570 Tablighi Markaz returnees.
Baruah said initially, people called up the 104 helpline desk with queries regarding COVID-19 symptoms, general health, reporting on quarantined cases or to say there was no food, inform about the inter-state journey of a person, some people not following quarantine protocol etc.
“Suddenly, we had the Nizamuddin episode. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called me up one day to say we will receive a lot of calls related to Nizamuddin. I galvanized the team. Soon, we started receiving calls on the Nizamuddin-related cases,” Baruah said.
She said some people voluntarily reported they had come from Nizamuddin while details about a large number of others were received from callers. Some called up to seek advice on what they should do as they had come into contact with Nizamuddin returnees who, they felt, were showing symptoms of COVID-19.
“We guided the callers. As regards the Tablighi Markaz attendees, we received calls about people hiding somewhere. In some cases, the callers would give the phone number of a person, his name and address. The verification started with the person’s name. We shared the details with DMs for field verifications and also with the National Health Mission and the Health Minister,” Baruah said.
As many Tablighi Markaz returnees were not coming forward, she had advised the Health Department to take the help of mosque committees. As the State Nodal Officer of 104 helpline desk, she also had to boost the morale of paramedics who were part of her team.
“The paramedics have a lot of issues. Their building owners were worried as they feared they (paramedics) would carry the virus. So, I had to speak to them to boost their morale,” Baruah said.
“The 104 helpline was basically giving COVID-related information to anyone who sought it. It was liaising with people who were in home quarantine. When I realized the load was heavy on the staff, I ensured we create a group of volunteers. One was formed with 150 people and they helped us working online from home,” Baruah said.
She also said that they had to monitor around 40,000 people in home quarantine and give them advice. "Everyone had a different issue. If some were psychologically down, the morale of others was low," she said.
“As people are stressed, issues related to mental health will go up. We have psychiatrists on board. If people call us, we link them up,” Baruah added.
She had pursued her graduation at the Miranda House in Delhi and was a topper. She later did her Masters from Delhi University. She had briefly worked as a lecturer in Darrang College, Tezpur, in Assam and was appointed as an officer of Assam Civil Services in 2004.