Often when Neelam Kumari, a health professional, knocks on village doors in India, residents run away from the back of their house, terrified that she will want to vaccinate them against Covid-19.
As the recent wave of murder calms down in cities, the epidemic is wreaking havoc in the countryside plagued by poverty and dominated by ignorance and fear.
“A lot of people in my village refuse the vaccine. They think they will die if we vaccinate them,” Kumari told AFP in Dhatrath, a hamlet of two-story buildings in Haryana state, where buffaloes walk the streets. “One of the villagers was so angry that he beat up a health worker who was trying to convince him to get the vaccine.”
Only 15% of people in rural areas have so far received at least one injection, against 30% in the city, while two-thirds of the cases listed are in the countryside, according to an analysis of the daily The Hindu.
– Fatalism –
Rumors are rife online and on messengers such as WhatsApp. Fear that 5G could spread Covid-19 led to an attack on a mobile phone tower in Haryana state.
“People do not show up to be tested, convinced that the government will declare them infected with Covid even if they are not,” said Shoeb Ali, a doctor from the village of Miyaganj in the state, to AFP. of Uttar Pradesh (north).
This fear dominates despite the sight of bodies thrown into streams and the hundreds of shallow graves that suggest the coronavirus is sowing death in rural areas of India where 70% of the population of 1 live. 3 billion people.
In the village of Nuran Khera, Haryana State, we are reluctant although many homes have had cases of fever and despite dozens of deaths noted.
“Even after the opening of a vaccination center here, no one is ready to be bitten,” Rajesh Kumar, 45, who lives in the village, told AFP. “I will not be vaccinated because there are a lot of side effects. People feel bad after the injection.”
In other states, people are reported to have thrown themselves into rivers or fled into forests to escape mobile healthcare teams.
“What to answer to those who tell you + If my destiny is to live, I will live, even without the vaccine +?” Asks Hom Kumar, a health professional from the village of Bhatau Jamalpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The places of care are far from each other and some people also think that it is more dangerous to go to the public hospital than to stay away from it.
“There are people who went to the hospital and never came back,” another Nuran Khera resident, who gave only his first name, Kuldip, told AFP.
– Communicate –
The coronavirus has also hit India’s economy hard and villagers are often more concerned about making ends meet, says local medical official Rajib Dasgupta.
“It is very difficult to explain the interest of the vaccine as long as some of these distressing situations are not eliminated,” says Rajib Dasgupta.
Experts say India should learn lessons from its polio vaccination campaign for children in the 2000s. The program was successful after respected local leaders convinced parents that the vaccine was safe.
Navneet Singh, who heads the immunization program in Jind district (Haryana state) says one-to-one communication has allowed at least one injection to be administered to those over 45 in Kalwa and the villages surrounding areas.
Sheela Devi is one of those who go door to door to try to convince, with some success. “Gradually, we were able to convince them that even if they catch the coronavirus after being vaccinated, they will not need to be hospitalized. They will be able to take medicine and go home,” said the 45-year-old woman.