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Everyone Can Be a Career: Responding to a Pandemic in Rural India


Bhagalpur (Reuters), India-“Everyone I met is a potential carrier of this disease.” The town of Bhagalpur and its nearby villages were set up to cover the epidemic of the raging coronavirus in the Indian countryside. The doctor told me when I visited.

Siddiqui, a Reuters photographer in Denmark, is taking pictures of patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The 67-year-old owner, Parsada Sah, has been transferred from the emergency ward to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical University Hospital. Outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Burgarpur, Bihar, India, on July 27, 2020. Reuters/Stringer

Dr. Kumar Gaulav, the psychiatrist who gave the warning, was in charge of the main hospital in Bargarpur after the epidemic knocked down some of his colleagues and others refused to work.

Currently, the total number of infectious diseases in India exceeds 3.5 million, increasing from 2 million in 3 weeks. It is the third most common coronavirus infection in the world. The disease is widespread in the Indian countryside where people are forced to rely on the most basic medical facilities.

In the countryside, where two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion population live, we wanted to show the victims of human disease. So I headed to one of the poorest areas of the country, Bihar, eastern India.

The area I went to couldn’t be reached easily. Concerned about the dangers of using public transport, I and the driver traveled from New Delhi to the plains of northern India for four days by car along flooded and rutted roads.

We carried full personal protective clothing, masks, goggles, and disinfectants. This was far more than the hospital staff I encountered.

In Burgalpur, patients and their families were desperate for help and medical staff were at risk of infection as they suffered from lack of manpower and equipment. In many cases, even the equipment they had did not work.

The Gaurav hospital specializes in treating patients with COVID-19 and serves a population of approximately 10 million, while still accepting other patients.

Most COVID-19 patients were hospitalized with relatives who accompanied their intensive care unit. After trying to care for the illness-after sitting together, massaging and eating, these relatives go home overnight.

Gauraf said the medical system is close to the limit. One of the points of constant tension, he said, was to limit relative-to-patient visits at the ICU, given the risk that the infection could spread.

It underlined his warning to me that anyone I met could carry the disease-it was not a casual comment.

The town was under a tight blockade, but most inhabitants did not wear masks or observe social distance rules. The traffic was enthusiastic.

After spending four days in Bihar, we were on our way back to New Delhi.

Gauraf was left behind and was the last doctor to stand in his hospital on the banks of the Ganges River.

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When we met him, he was in a hospital with a round of armed guards trying to enforce the rules. He told me he felt compelled to step up to take charge.

“Many of my colleagues refused,” he said. “I had to take responsibility.”

(Danish Siddiqui is an award-winning Reuters photojournalist based in New Delhi. Click here To read his story about the Pandemic in Bhagalpur)

Written by Raju Gopalakrishnan


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