COVID-19: Vaccination drive a bumpy ride in tribal belts of India

In most cases, inoculation percentage among the ST is lower than state average; experts attribute this to misconception & accessibility

Published: 13th June 2021 09:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th June 2021 09:24 AM   |  A+A-

A tribal resident being vaccinated in Attappadi

BHOPAL/MUMBAI/JAIPUR: Covid-19 vaccination in the tribal belts of India has been an eventful exercise. In most places, there is hesitancy and numbers are low. There are villages without a single shot administered. Inoculation is higher in this section of the population only in a handful of states. According to the 2011 census, 8.6% or about 10.4 crore Indians belong to the Scheduled Tribes. In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, vaccination coverage among these tribes has been satisfactory.

They form a sizable part of population in these states and there are instances of tribal-dominated districts doing better than other districts. But Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and West Bengal present the bigger picture, where the drive is yet to penetrate into the tribal heartlands. In some places, resistance caused by misconceptions is making things difficult for healthcare workers.

Tribes constitute 9.35% of Maharashtra’s population. While the state has vaccinated 38.51% of its people, figures are not as much in places these tribes reside. In districts like Nandurbar, Gadchiroli and Amarawati, vaccination percentage is 30.33, 27.72 and 33.41, respectively. In the non-tribal districts of Pune, Nagpur and Kolhapur, this is 50.94, 51.94 and 66.64 in that order. In Madhya Pradesh, a comparative analysis of five tribaldominated districts and as many non-tribal districts with nearly the same population reveals only 10-15% of people in the tribal-dominated districts have been vaccinated.

Vaccine has reached tribal areas, but there is hesitancy among people to take it | PTI

The corresponding number in nontribal districts is 15-19%. In Alirajpur district’s 57 tribaldominated villages, not one dose of vaccine has been injected so far. Same in Betul district, where over 40 demographically similar villages are yet to record a single shot. About 13.5% of Rajasthan’s population are from the ST. Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur and Dausa are among the districts with a sizable chunk of tribal people. A look at vaccination data shows these districts are way behind those where tribes are in the minority. With a tribal population of 76.4%, Banswara has a vaccination percentage of 24.33, Dungarpur with 70.8% has 20.35, Udaipur with over 50% has 24.77 and Dausa with 26.5% has 22.38.

In contrast, Nagaur with a tribal population of 0.2% has vaccinated 32.07% of its residents, while Bikaner with 0.4% has achieved 31.24%. In West Bengal as well, districts with a higher tribal population like Jhargram, West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura are witnessing slow vaccination. Although the state health department has launched awareness campaigns, response has been tepid.

Healthcare facilities in the district headquarters in Jhargram have administered 27,277 doses. In tribal-dominated Belpahari, this figure is 8,395. Purulia town has had 16,308 doses, while the tribal-dominated Sirkabad has got only 2,395. A video from Rajasthan’s Kotda tahsil has gone viral. It shows a man holding an axe and asking the vaccination team to write on stamp paper he will be alright after taking the vaccine. There were reports from Chhattisgrah of health workers chased out of a village. These incidents explain to an extent why vaccination has not been so successful in tribal belts. Many in these areas believe they will die or become impotent on taking the shot. Superstitions and rumours have been a major roadblock. Lack of vaccination centres and difficulties in accessing them add to the problem.

“A myth was created the government wants to end the tribal population by administering the vaccine. Besides, vaccines centres are not easy to access. People have to travel on foot through tough terrains. The young can manage, not senior citizens,” thinks Pratibha Shinde, a social activist in tribal areas of Maharashtra. In MP’s Alirajpur, District Collector Surabhi Gupta says cases have been registered for spreading rumours and preventing tribal people from getting jabs. Government officials also feel misleading videos have created apprehension.

The situation is better in Jharkhand and Chhattiasgarh. Jharkhand’s tribal-dominated districts Lohardaga, Ranchi, Gumla and Palamu have recorded 36.5%, 30.94%, 34.72% and 35.80% vaccination. Districts with less tribal population like Hazaribagh, Koderma and Godda have numbers of 32.16%, 37.91% and 24.52%. Although there are tribal pockets in Chhattisgarh with low vaccination figures, many such districts have done better than other districts. In Bastar and the Sarguja, where a lot of tribal people stay, vaccination percentage is over 80% and 72%. State capital Raipur has achieved 57% and Bilaspur, another urban centre, 61%.

Inputs from Ejaz Kaiser (Raipur), Mukesh Ranjan (Ranchi), Pranab Mondal (Kolkata)


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