I serve as a doctor in a predominantly tribal area. Believe me, we were not ready to face the Pandemic at all. Like many who live in Rural India, we still suffer from a lack of access to health facilities and/or medical personnel.
Coronavirus spreads across our district
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in January 2020. The Coronavirus in distant Kerala looked inconsequential. After all, we lived in geographically remote, isolated, and largely inaccessible locations.
We assumed we were “relatively” safe since we lived far away from the hot spots. But that was not to be. A confirmed COVID-19 case, closer to our district, was reported. Soon enough, many COVID-19 positive cases were reported in the neighbourhood.
Suddenly, COVID-19 became a reality we had to live (or die) with. Unfortunately, the abrupt nationwide lockdown did not slow down the virus spread across India.
People did not take COVID-19 seriously
The Novel Coronavirus quickly spread across our district, despite its geographical vastness. However, most people did not take COVID-19 seriously. Sudden deaths due to diseases are common in our villages.
Diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, acute diarrhoea are more rampant and deadly in rural India. You don’t expect to die from these diseases if you live in the Cities. But in Rural India, people generally have learnt to accept death due to these diseases.
Often, they just don’t seem to care. I wonder if such apathy is due to familiarity with death and suffering. The lockdown adversely affected people and their livelihoods. And so, it was the shortage of essential food supplies that were their immediate cause for worry.
Not surprisingly, Health and Hygiene were the least of their concerns. COVID-19 appropriate behaviour like social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks was hardly practiced. If ever it was done, it was only to escape the heavy fine imposed or a harsh reprimand by the police.
With rising deaths, Rural India was desperate for frontline workers
Smaller clinics simply did not have the capacity or capability to manage the swell of patients. Patients were turned away or referred to town hospitals due to the lack of beds. Away in the nearby towns, the medical facilities were facing a crisis due to the increased demands for medical care.
Suddenly, COVID-19 related deaths surged. The repeat funeral processions through the streets with drums and wails spread fear and anger across the surrounding villages. Rural India desperately wanted frontline workers to fight COVID-19.
However, lack of clarity regarding the spread of the virus the abrupt lockdown confused the ground level medical staff. New regulations, protocols, ward conversions caused a lot of uncertainty. Many feared these uncertainties more than we feared the disease. The morale among the doctors and other frontline staff dipped to an all-time low.
The grasp of purpose
Over-stressed medical staff in our area simply ‘fled’ from the challenge. PPE shortages caused some of my colleagues to tender resignations and move to ‘safe havens.’ And that is when I (and few others who work alongside me) sensed the grasp of purpose.
We knew we had to respond to this crisis and make a difference. We formed a small medical team, and despite the scale of the Pandemic, we got into action straight away. We felt that God had strategically placed us in a low-resource setting to serve people in need.
Believe me, it wasn’t easy or comfortable. We prayed, prayed, and prayed. God was our only hope, and we took refuge in God. We continually reminded each other that our days are NOT numbered by COVID-19 but rather by the sovereign will of a loving God.
Faith, Love, and Hope in Action
With this renewed confidence in God, we decided to face the challenge head-on. First, we wrote to the Government hospital offering our services to help them whenever the need arises. Serving in the Government hospitals enabled us to quickly reach the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.
Next, we approached the district administration and sought permission to manufacture face shields and PPEs locally. Thankfully, we found favour with the district administrative head and manufactured close to 2000 PPEs for the local district level hospital.
We, then, wrote to all support groups who stood shoulder to shoulder with us until now. As you know, we needed support from every corner to fight COVID-19. God was faithful, and He generously provided for our needs.
We focused on reaching individual villages with medical relief and health awareness programs in all our efforts. We distributed masks and antipyretic medications in remote villages even as we emphasized the need for handwashing, social distancing, and wearing of masks.
The Second Wave: The fight could be long and hard
It’s been a tough year since the first COVID-19 outbreak in nearby villages. There is a spike again in the COVID-19 infection rate due to the second wave. Now, we are back to the frontlines with a renewed sense of vigour and commitment.
I know the fight is long and hard, but our God is in perfect control. We have a Christian heritage of responding to Epidemics with a sense of love for God, devotion to Christ, and care for the sick and the dying.
When the Plague (Black Death) ravaged Europe in 1300 AD, it left a third of its population dead. It was a group of Christian monks who sacrificially served the dying. In fact, the monks willingly embraced death and held up the banner of Christ.
We can give of ourselves and all that is ours to the service of God
I know our work may be small, but the impact can be significant to our communities. And so, we pray and continue on faithfully, knowing that God has called us to do this and trusting God to bless our service. We know we join the many witnesses who have fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished the race before us.
We can give of ourselves and all that is ours to the service of God, for He is Worthy! Yes, by His grace, we can positively influence communities and their histories with our compassionate acts of grace.
The writer is a medical doctor and serves in Rural India.
Photo by Avin CP on Unsplash