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80 Deaths in 30 days: chogath symbolizes ncov havoc in rural guj

Bhavnagar: The streets of Chogath village in Bhavnagar’s Umrala taluka are rent with marasiyas (death songs), women screaming and men sobbing, and understandably so.

The village, which has a population of 9,000, has lost 80 people to COVID-19 in just one month. Unfortunately, Chogath is not alone in its misery. Kuvadva village in Rajkot has witnessed 40 deaths already, and the count is still rising. The case is the same in many parts of rural Gujarat.

“Choghat has used 1,400kg of wood for pyres in the past 30 days. Prior to the pandemic, that’s how much wood the village used for a year’s worth of cremations.

That alone shows the extent of damage done by COVID-19 in the village,” explained Rajubhai Dabhi, former member of Umrala Taluka Panchayat. Rajubhai’s younger brother succumbed to the virus April 29.  

“When more COVID-19 cases began to be reported, in early April, I requested the taluka and district health authorities to set up a permanent health team in village. But no one was bothered.

As a result, the village lost 80 persons in one month. Normally, we see just one or two deaths,” he said, adding that the Village Panchayat has recorded 78 deaths.

“The village has a population of 9,000, but has neither a primary health centre (PHC) nor a sub-centre. It comes under the Ranghola PHC 25km away.

The Umrala taluka community health centre (CHC) is 6km away, Vallabhipur CHC is 13km, Dadva  PHC is 17km and Bhavnagar district hospital is 35km away. But PHCs and CHCs don’t have oxygen and other facilities. So the villagers sourced oxygen cylinders through some social groups,” he explained.

According to the National Health Mission, a village in a plain area with population of 5,000 is supposed to have a sub-centre and ones with a population of 20,000-30,000 is entitled to a PHC.

“The taluka headquarters of Umrala also reported 35 deaths in April, while 30 persons have died in Limda village in the same time, and 70 people died in two months in Ranghola village.

These deaths were caused by poor health infrastructure, lack of medical staff and non availability of oxygen or ventilators in rural areas,” said TM Baraiya of Chogath village, who lost his mother to COVID-19.

Pre-pandemic, 108 ambulances coming in from Vallabhipur or Umrala had a response time of 25-30 minutes. However, in the past month, with ambulances struggling to meet demand, villagers were forced to transport critical patients by car, autorickshaws or the bigger diesel variant, the chagda.

Some even used tractors and mini trucks to take patients as far as Bhavnagar--with no guarantee of getting a bed in the city. Baraiya says all these factors added to the number of COVID-19 deaths.

Dharmendra Lakhani, President of Umrala Taluka Panchayat, admitted that the situation was very bad in Chogath village “until two to three days ago”, and that many villagers died in one month.

As president of the Taluka Panchayat, Lakhani too realised that Chogath village should have either a PHC or a sub-centre and has moved a proposal  for it.

However, deputy collector Rajesh Chauhan has rubbished the villagers’ claims. He says that only 27 persons died in Chogath in April, and attributes just nine of these to COVID-19.

Countering the state government’s figure, Baraiya said that 18 persons have died of COVID-19 on Dharuka street in Chogath alone.

Further, he said, villagers who died during treatment in Bhavnagar, Umrala, or Vallabhipur were cremated there. “The state is not including their deaths in the village data just to show low figures,” he said.

Member of Parliament Bharatiben Shiyal, Gadhada MLA Atmaram Parmar and former MLA Pravin Maru were all not available for comment despite several attempts by First India. 

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