Recently the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Govt of India accepted a tool developed by the Department of Community Medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS), Sevagram to assess community preparedness at village level to battle corona virus pandemic. The self-assessment cum action tool is in the form of checklist to be used by Gram Panchayat or another village level committee given mandate of organizing village level response to the pandemic. Department of Community Medicine has also developed a guide for filling up the checklist to make it user friendly as well as video for informing villagers regarding need for community action. The tool identifies eight areas for action at village level and accordingly the checklist is divided into sections; viz. creating awareness regarding preventive measures, solidarity to address the associated stigma, support for home as well as community quarantine, help in surveillance activities identification, support to needy families, ensuring availability of routine health services, prompt response in case of positive cases and maintaining hygiene and sanitation at village level. The filled in information in this check list will help the Gram Panchayats to self-assess their preparedness and identify what more they may do. This will also help the health department to take appropriate and timely corrective measures.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Govt of India further instructed the Chief Secretaries of all Indian states to use the tool for assessing the community response to COVID-19 at village/Gram Panchayat level for timely action of COVID-19 and vector borne diseases. “The threat of COVID-19 spreading to rural areas cannot be ruled out. This checklist will serve as an effective tool for strengthening the community preparedness.” mentioned Shri Sunil Kumar, Secretary, Govt of India, Ministry of Panchayati Raj in a letter addressed to Shri Ajoy Mehta, Chief Secretary, Govt of Maharashtra. He also acknowledged the contribution of MGIMS, Sevagram in preparing the efficient tool.
The tool was developed with a vision to enhance community participation for action against the current COVID-19 pandemic. Based on past experience of MGIMS in community-based activities, it was realized that to prevent the spread of this disease, it is imperative for the people to take charge of the situation. Dr Subodh S Gupta, Professor & Head, Department of Community Medicine expressed, “Transmission of COVID-19 is largely confined to urban areas till now. It is right time for the country to mobilize Panchayats for community action at village level, where 70% of our population resides.” He further adds, if properly implemented, Gram Panchayats will be instrumental in slowing down transmission of COVID-19 in India in the next phase. This approach will also mobilize help for vulnerable groups and other needy families in villages.
Before preparing the tool, the team from Sevagram interacted with members of Gram Panchayats in about 20 villages in Wardha. All of these villages had formed a Corona Committee as per a directive from the district administration. The team was pleasantly surprised in several villages on the maturity with which the Gram Panchayats and village level committees have acted during this pandemic. In other villages the checklist became a training tool, informing them of the roles Panchayats and village level committees may play to slow down the transmission of the disease and support the needy families. During development of the tool, the department also received feedback from district level authorities of Wardha and nearby neighboring districts. The faculty members, staff and students of Department of Community Medicine were excited to learn that a tool which was developed to help Gram Panchayats in field practice area of MGIMS, Sewagram has been accepted at national level and will be implemented in more than 700,000 villages of the country.
Further, in an online training coordinated by Anandvan and Village Social Transformation Foundation (VSTF) on 24 May 2020, the Department of Community Medicine oriented more than 300 VSTF fellows regarding use of the tool. These volunteers will work in more than 1000 villages of Maharashtra to catalyze community response to COVID-19. VSTF also plans to use the information gathered through the network of fellows to help Government of Maharashtra fight the pandemic in a better way.