Varnali Deka, DC, Goalpara spoke exclusively to The Sentinel Assam on her administration's strategy in handling COVID and floods and are now addressing unemployment and livelihood issues. She also spoke about how she is keeping her team together and motivated. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Sentinel Assam: What has been your strategy against COVID?
Varnali Deka: It has been a long battle for Goalpara along with the state and the country. But I must say that Assam has shown one of best responses to the Covid and we have had a lot of handholding supports from the state in our fight against the Covid. For Goalpara the process started in the end of February, because we started having a lot of workers, students and businessmen who returned home. So the first step has been in term of screening of these each person and creating on data based which help us later on because every time we got information on the hotspot we could locates the returnees from the hotspot, so if you look at the statistic Goalpara has some of the earlier detections. April 1st was the first detection and that was one of the earliest in the State, but the spread was controlled. Our positivity rate as of yesterday is about 5% which is relatively lower than the State average. The number of discharges is more than the incoming patients. We have been doing extensive testing. I would say at this point, that the main mantra is extensive testing as Honorable Health Minister has been saying. And the other is of course following social distancing, wearing masks and so on. We have a large Muslim population and we talked with Muslim committees or Masjid Committees regarding their public announcement system and they readily agreed and all the Covid advisories were being broadcast through the PA system of mosque which also lead to a wider awareness about the infection and about the precaution that need to be taken.
Sentinel Assam: How have you kept your team motivated for over five months now working almost round the clock?
Varnali Deka: First of all, its the motivation of all administrative officials, police officers, doctors which only shows the never-ending human endurance. Bihu has gone by, Eid has gone by and many other festivals will come but none of my officers who have stayed away from their families has come to me and said that they are having problems or they want leave. They have sacrificed endlessly. Of course from our side we have to recognize their efforts. To recognise their efforts we are taking some small initiatives, one has been on our social media we have started #HeroesOfTheDay #CoronaWarriors where everyone is talking about one or two officers about their initiatives, about their sacrifices, and everybody likes that social recognition. Doctors and nurses are staying away from their families, quarantined in hospitals or hotels, so we had given them a packet of goodies, some eatables, some mugs with some messages from DC and the third one is the life cover, you know Pradhan Mantri Bima Yojana, a life insurance scheme, it's very comprehensive scheme which covers all kinds of deaths including natural deaths, suicidal deaths along with deaths by disease, accidental deaths and so on with a premium of Rs 330 per month. We also did this so that any other deaths or COVID deaths, their family will immediately get the cover. So, these are some initiatives that we took for our frontline workers as well as for our safai karmachaaris (cleaning staff) so that their efforts are being appreciated by public as well as by the administration.
Sentinel Assam: It is not just the COVID patients, there are non-COVID patients too who needs medical care. How have you managed their requirements?
Varnali Deka: We followed the health department's guidelines. We kept the structures clear and separate for COVID and non-COVID patients. Doctors were on rotation for those on COVID duty plus we had all the basic services open and even today when we have about 150 active COVD cases, we are still providing all the OPD services and we are catering to the cases of not only from Goalpara but the cases of Bogaingaon and even patients from the Garo hills. Right now we are focusing on increasing our ICU facilities for the COVID cases.
Sentinel Assam: Was it tough handling COVID and floods at the same time?
Varnali Deka: Fortunately, the COVID hotpot and the flood affected areas were very different so in that way God was kind. In the end of May we had flash floods. Flash floods are much more destructive than the over flowing water because of the force of destruction. On 25th of May the day of Eid, early morning I was informed that villagers were marooned at certain places and Goalpara has been prone to flash flood as you are already aware of. Normally the floods roll down from the North Garo hills sides but this time it from the West Garo Hills side. So basically, most of the people of this area are not habituated of this kind of flash floods. But fortunately, we had mobilized the NDRF and SDRF and with their efforts we rescued all the villagers. The next step was putting all the villagers at the relief camps with COVID safety protocols. Fortunately, we had done our homework well. We have our network of camps already and we had already notified these camps and with the Head Master or Principal of the schools as the ex-officio members we could very well manage the situation. We immediately organized sanitizers and masks. We have child friendly areas and elderly friendly areas and in the addition to the basic facilities we ensured hygiene and great food etc.
Sentinel Assam: What about rural education? How are you addressing the issues which children in rural areas are facing as education has gone online?
Varnali Deka: We have started making the modular videos of the course content. We have been holding small screenings for children and we are also uploading the video in our district YouTube channel called #GoalparaCares. This is the online model but as we know that in rural areas there are network issue so we also have offline facilities with the help of Piramal Foundation we are preparing course content and giving hard copies. Along with the Mid-Day Meal we handed the hard copies of assignments and then the student give it back to their respective teachers. The other is the Goalpara Cares initiative where we are reaching out to the people for donating their old but useable smart phones, laptops, tablets because most of the rural areas have good mobile connectivity and network connectivity so we are reaching out to the people for the gadgets which we are giving to our children in rural areas.
Also, I would like to talk about Mission Tarang. This is learning from home initiative, where 15000+ have already registered.
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