Thursday, July 29, 2021

“Area of concern”

On July 7, the Union Home Secretary chaired a meeting at Delhi, to review the COVID-19 situation in Northeastern States and Union Territories (UTs), wherein the current status and trends of active cases, Case Fatality Rate (CFR), Case Positivity Rate (CPR) and vaccination status in respect of NE States and UTs were discussed. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) informed that Chief Secretaries, Directors General of Police and Principal Secretaries (Health) of these States/UTs attended the meeting in which Member (Health) NitiAayog, Director NCDC and senior officers of the Ministries of Home Affairs and Health & Family Welfare were present. On July 8, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in partnership with UNICEF, held a capacity building workshop for Media Professionals and Health Correspondents of Northeastern States on the current COVID situation in India, highlighting the need to bust myths about COVID vaccines and vaccination and reinforce the importance of COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB). The Home Ministry ~ in fact, the Prime Minister himself ~ has been regularly meeting Chief Ministers, Health Ministers and senior Government officials to review the COVID situation since last year. However, the Union Health Ministry’s capacity building workshop for Media Professionals and Health Correspondents of Northeastern States on Thursday ~ for the first time since the pandemic began ~ though unexpected was a pleasant surprise and welcome. That on two consecutive days, two crucial Union Ministries met NE Government agencies and the media signals a few flags, no Northeastern State can afford to ignore. Clearly, the Union Government perceives the COVID situation in this region as an “area of concern”, so to speak, which Northeasterners know. Therefore, the Union Government focusing significant attention raises hope for amelioration of the region’s pandemic situation. The statistics presented during both meetings are grim, especially because the land-population ratio in this region is unlike that of other parts of the country so even the tiniest demographic depletion/shift would be disastrous. Moreover, the Northeast’s development quotient particularly on health and education are not the best and the second wave ~ which the meetings underscored isn’t over yet ~ has taken a heavy toll in the country’s rural areas and the Northeast is primarily a rural region. Besides, the 5-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate and COVID appropriate behavior is way below satisfactory levels here, which renders us more vulnerable to the imminent third wave that experts have been cautioning for months. The other important aspect, which wasn’t stated during both the meetings is the reported increase of COVID infections in Myanmar and Bangladesh ~ and almost all Northeastern States are immediate neighbours of these two countries. The international borders with these two countries are porous and the situation in Myanmar, leading to a good number of its citizens seeking shelter especially in Mizoram, makes this entire region even more vulnerable to increased infections. So, if strict containment measures are not taken now even a couple of weeks hence could be perilous ~ juxtaposed with the Unlock processes. In the same workshop, while acknowledging media persons as major influencers of society and soliciting the media’s support and cooperation, the Union Health Ministry specifically highlighted the three important components to fight against COVID i.e. Community ownership of COVID Appropriate Behaviour, Evidence Based Reporting and Busting Myths on COVID and vaccination. Further acknowledging the media as an important stakeholder in creating an enabling environment for vaccination by busting myths, fears and apprehensions surrounding COVID vaccination, the Union Health Secretary also urged media persons to create a Jan Andolan (Public Movement) by applauding community warriors as role-models. Besides various reasons for vaccine hesitancy, which may be local and could vary for different communities, the workshop further highlighted Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI), its management and the best practices while reporting on AEFI. Clearly, the Union Government has understood the need to co-opt the media to combat COVID ~ thereby emphasized the media’s specific areas of “expertise”; in fact, its indispensability during crises situations. It isn’t that the Union Government lacks confidence in our Governments but just that it has realized that they need back-up and reinforcements in specific aspects and specialties ~ after all, it’s a multifaceted and multi-dimensional war that’s being fought so all hands are crucial. Alas, if only our Governments had acknowledged and co-opted the local media here right from the start ~ instead of inevitably looking at us through adversarial eyes! Alas, it has taken a pandemic to value the independent media. Well, better late than never.