Battling the Wave

Healthcare efforts fighting the COVID-19 crisis in rural India

24 May 2021
Kavita Kushwaha, 28 years old, left latex gloves filled with hot water next to her 80-year-old father Dadanram Kushwaha to soothe his bedsores. At the time, he was in the COVID-19 ICU run by Sangwari at the Government Medical College Hospital in Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh. He died later that night.
Photographs and Text by Harsha Vadlamani
31 July, 2021

“SAABUN HAI?”—DO YOU HAVE SOAP? Thirty-year-old Shyamkali Baiga, knew the drill. She brought out a bright-green bar of soap, held it close to her nose and confirmed that she could not smell it. Savni Baiga, a health worker, briefly took her eyes off the list of symptoms she was ticking off on a sheet and nodded in acknowledgement.

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swept through India, looking at the horrific visuals from Delhi and other cities, I wondered about the situation in villages. Rural India has been the focus of my reporting for the last thirteen years, and I knew its fragile healthcare systems would struggle to handle the pandemic. In early May, after fully recovering from the virus myself, I set out on a motorbike to document its impact on rural areas in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, through the work of doctors working in low-resource settings in those regions. My first port of call was the Jan Swasthya Sahyog hospital, a facility with a hundred beds and two operation theatres, in the village of Ganiyari, in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district. Founded in 2000 by a group of doctors who quit their careers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, to work on healthcare in the region, the hospital and its three sub-centres serve an estimated 1.5 million people in more than two thousand villages.