Covid-19: Indigenous knowledge and lack of medical facilities

[ Tongam Rina ]
A lot has been said and written about the indigenous knowledge system (IKS) while dealing with Covid-19 in Arunachal. IKS has become more relevant than ever because some rituals ensure social distancing, which has been one of the keys to stop the spread of the virus.
While we should acknowledge IKS, which has been passed down to us by our ancestors, at the same time we should ask ourselves why headlines can be misleading and how people who have no clue romanticize our knowledge system without asking once if there is a healthcare system in place.
‘How indigenous quarantine rituals helped Arunachal become Covid-free’ is one of the many headlines that I have read over the last few months.
This headline was in April, after the much-ostracized Covid-19 patient was treated successfully and released from the zonal general hospital, Tezu.
Age-old quarantine rituals may have helped in stopping mass spread, but the fact is, Covid-19 is here, though the numbers are not alarming as yet in the rest of the state while the Itanagar capital region is struggling with the number surging with each passing day.
Luckily for the health department and the families, most of the cases are asymptomatic, which do not require intensive medical facility and are being treated in Covid care centres.
The three people who passed away had comorbidities. Comorbid – but at some point someone in the government will have to respond whether these patients got the requisite healthcare facility and if enough was done.
Difficult, but yours truly hopes that those in responsible positions will ask themselves whether they did enough and whether these deaths were preventable had the state prepared enough.
That brings us back to IKS. Why did we rely on IKS amidst a pandemic? In most cases because there was and is no option of healthcare for most.
It’s not uncommon to see rituals and prayers carried out in hospital wards in Arunachal. These rituals are not prohibited in hospital wards. There has been mutual respect between practitioners of modern medicine and traditional IKS.
Now, the problem is, most do not have access to hospital wards and modern medicine, which forces them to rely only on the traditional knowledge system.
The pandemic has exposed how little the state has invested in medical system. TRIHMS, the first medical college, did not have an ICU. Now it has, and six more have come up in the state, though shortage of health workers remains.
For years, serious patients have been sent to Assam or elsewhere in the country. While the rich ones can go out of the region for specialized treatment, what happens to the ones who can’t afford to go out?
They die on the way to the nearest hospital, or in hospital wards, or at home. Not that the state lacks trained people.
Many healthcare workers are highly trained, but it is time that these personnel are given the facilities, so that they can treat patients in the state. The state has not been able to put together a 35-bedded prefabricated Covid-exclusive hospital, though the process was started in mid May. This should be a record of sorts in the entire world that a prefabricated hospital takes near about three months to be completed. A container for the 35-bedded hospital is yet to come, even though Health Minister Alo Libang has announced that it will be upgraded to a 60-bedded hospital.
The inability of the state to put together a prefabricated hospital is a reflection of the inefficiency of the state government. Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar, Chief Minister Pema Khandu and Health Minister Alo Libang are answerable to the people of this state. As people responsible, have they done enough? No.
Last heard, a cabin is yet to arrive and there are no toilets and changing or sleeping rooms. One can only hope that the rain stops, so that doctors, nurses, technicians and cleaners do not get wet while they rest, sleep and eat outside with no toilet facility.
Had the hospital come up on time, the pressure on the TRIHMS and the RKMH would have been lesser. With the RKMH shut for sanitization after the detection of a case and TRHIMS shut again, where are people with healthcare needs supposed to go? Go to private hospitals, which is not affordable for most?
From March till now, precious time and opportunity to prepare have been lost. Hope someone in the health department has a checklist of what has to be done. It’s not too late to prepare one and work on it. Remember the three who lost their lives, in case no one is taking notes.