success scripted in the Ganjam district of Odisha in the fight against COVID 19 assumes significance beyond the frontiers of the State. With a total of 20, 376 confirmed cases, 19,947 recoveries, 200 active cases amounting to o.72 of all cases in the State, 221 deaths and daily case load of only less than 40 it has become a shining example of success in effectively containing the disease. It affirms the resilience of the district administration headed by district collector Shri Kulange in tackling the pandemic which had registered alarmingly high number of coronavirus infections and deaths per day in the State by end of July 2020.
The transformation of the State from an unenviable status of a COVID hotspot to a model for its ability in rapidly reducing infections and resultant deaths is worthy of study, research and replication. The Chief Minister of State Shri Naveen Patnaik quite often invoked Ganjam Model and stressed on adopting it in other districts which witnessed accelerating spread of COVID infections. Leadership of Naveen Patnaik inspires people
The district took pride in the fact that it did not have a single COVID positive case till end of April. People had firm faith on the leadership of Shri Patnaik whose exemplary bench of disaster management, they felt, would enable them to tide over the COVID crisis. Even in remote areas of the district people living in villages pinned faith on him and told over telephone that the Chief Minister who has been saving lives from numerous natural disasters right from the day he assumed office would save lives from the pandemic and set another example before the country. Such statements emanating from the villages of Ganjam reminded the observation of the editorial of Lancet titled "‘India under COVID-19 lockdown" and published on 25th April 2020. It observed " “Odisha’s exposure to previous natural disasters meant crisis precautions were already in place and have been repurposed."
People's faith on a tested and trusted leadership goes a long way in eventually decisively checking the pandemic which has caused disaster of gigantic proportions and flattened the curve of health, human and economic security. Entry of Migrants, Rise in COVID Cases and Gradual Decline of Infections
The district of Ganjam which registered the first COVID positive case on 2nd May witnessed return of lakhs of migrants to the district and Chief Minister Shri Patnaik prophetically stated that the number of infected people would rise rapidly with the arrival of native people from other parts of the country where they worked. Indeed by June 22nd the number of infections rose to 1000 and it triggered panic, fear and apprehensions in the minds of people that they would become easy victims of the novel coronavirus. By third week of June the Supreme Court of India appreciated the State of Odisha for managing the pandemic better than many other States and registering one of the lowest mortality rates in the country. When the apex court allowed the conduct of annual Rath Yatra in Puri on that very ground Ganjam was getting caught in the whirlpool of rising infections which reached the figure of 1000. And by end of July there was tenfold increase and it crossed 10,000 cases. It has been noted that "Apart from the returning migrants who contributed to the high caseload, aspects such as compartment-like dwelling houses with a common wall in between, the relative absence of health services, and the fact that frontline workers were infected, were identified as contributing to the spike in numbers".Bottom Up Approach helped Ganjam to Manage COVID Crisis
The arrival of migrants continued till June and most of them who had come to the State after the commencement of train services were quarantined in several quarantined centres set up in Panchayats. Apart from providing free food and accommodation in those centers each one of them were paid Rs. 2000 by the Government. Their health parameters were checked and they were counseled by health workers in case any of them showed any health problem. This bottom up approach beginning from Panchayat level up wards enabled to involve community at the grassroots level and such community involvement and resilience became a major factor in stemming the tide of infections in the district and creating Ganjam Model for dealing with COVID crisis.
In fact professor James Manor of London University thoughtfully wrote an article "COVID Crisis: Valuable lessons from Grassroots India Ignored". He persuasively argued that in USA, UK and many other advanced countries top down approach was followed and so COVID crisis took a heavy toll of human life and went out of control. He, therefore, pleaded for adoption of an approach which would begin from Panchayat level. In fact the activities of the administration at the grassroots level best manifested by the thoughtful deployment of a nodal officer to monitor every 400 houses provided a much needed surveillance mechanism to track people who might get caught by the novel coronavirus.
It is indeed noteworthy that paramedic teams were given the task of visiting door to door and asking people about their co-morbidities. Such micro level operations helped to sensitize people at the local level and empower them with information to deal with the pandemic. Very instructively the bottom up approach adopted in Ganjam and Odisha has helped the administration in managing the COVID crisis reasonably well. It is because of such measures the number of daily infections in Ganjam came down to 200 by the middle of August and the downward trend continued and from 100 cases in the September it has come to less than fifty by first week of October. Testing, Screening and Monitoring
Increased testing and extensive screening became the guiding principle for the district administration headed by Collector Shri Vijay Amruta Kulange who asked health workers to go for door to door screening. Even a second round of screening of recovered patients has been conducted. No More Death Campaign
When the infections rose at a rapid pace and there were more fatalities the administration adopted measures for ensuring "no more deaths". It was achieved by ensuring proper medical attention and treatment. Now there is hardly any COVID related death in the district. The administration very thoughtfully deployed private ambulances with a healthcare worker in every panchyat and it added to the existing strength of ambulance services which are available by dialing 108. Counseling COVID cases
The psychological trauma caused by COVID made the infected people more vulnerable to health complications. Therefore, the district administration very sensitively provided opportunities to COVID positive patients to have access to counseling facilities and sessions. The counsellors reach out to the infected people through telephone and extend their services throughout the day. COVID Bandhu, COVID Sakhi and COVID Week
It is educative to note that the district administration deployed "COVID bandhus" for sensitising the people who are having COVID symptoms to get themselves tested and guiding people and spreading awareness among them about the disease. It is noteworthy that recovered patients have been enlisted among "COVID bandhus"for reaching out to people. It is understood that almost 700 recovered patients have come forward to extend services with a daily incentive of Rs. 100.
Helplines are avialbale to people and these lines are used to have surveillance of all positive cases. All COVID positive patients who are in home isolation are contacted through these lines thrice a day. A health card is issued to each patient. It enables health centre executives to contact the patients and monitor them. I recall Shri Parshuram Bisoyi from Ganjam and a successful entrepreneur based in Kolkata. He told me that during lock down when he reached his village in the district to be with his family which suffered bereavement because of death of some one, an official visited him and asked him to get quarantined at home. The prompt visit of the official reaching his door steps and the subsequent follow up measures taken to monitor during Shri Bisoyi’s home quarantine impressed him the most. He was pleasantly surprised that officials so closely monitored his visit, arrival at his village and monitored his condition during the quarantine period. It testified to the role played by the district administration in remaining alert and addressing the challenges emanating from visitors from beyond the boarders of the State.
Having firmly established the Ganjam Model the district administration is adopting “COVID week” to make people alert and aware of the issue and make them empowered not to be complacent about the pandemic.
It is worthwhile to note that women are being enlisted to fight the pandemic and particularly several women belonging to Self Help Groups have been imparted training to play the role of “COVID Sakhis”and they will reach out to all households to transmit information about the adoption of preventive measures to save themselves from COVID.
The district administration has prepared plans to sanitise all villages and wards to protect people from infection. It also includes the distribution of masks in far off places.
With such catalogue of measures at the grassroots level the district aims at fortify its example as a model for the State and rest of India. With reduction of reproductive value of coronavirus declining to less than one in Odisha it is hoped that the success achieved by Ganjam district will be replicated in the entire State and there would be progressive reduction of COVID infections which in turn would lead to significant improvement of human, health and economic security.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.