Hyderabad: In Telangana’s Nalagonda district, the challenges of Covid-19 come with not just the issues of access to healthcare centres, medication and vaccines, but a more basic problem — a lack of space to home isolate.
With many families sharing a single room that includes the kitchen and sometimes even the toilet, Covid positive patients often find they have nowhere to go to isolate.
This is why 18-year-old Shiva decided to build himself a Covid ‘ward’ — a bed made of bamboo sticks fastened to the branches of a tree in the compound of his home.
Living in Kothanandikonda, a tribal hamlet tucked away in the interiors of Nalagonda district, Shiva had tested positive on 4 May. Village volunteers told him to stay at home and isolate from his family, Shiva told ThePrint. But given his living conditions and the lack of an isolation centre in his village, Shiva came up with the idea of isolating on the tree. He has so far spent 11 days on the tree.
Kothanandikonda is home to about 350 families and is one of the many tribal hamlets under the Adavidevulapally mandal in the district. The nearest primary health centre (PHC) is 5 km away and people of these hamlets have to travel 30 km for a hospital in case of a critical medical emergency, residents said.
Given the rise in Covid cases in the rural parts of the state, a Scheduled Tribes Hostel in the mandal was converted into an isolation centre by the district administration on 13 May. However, many residents in these areas are still unaware of this.
“There was no isolation centre here. Two days ago, they converted the ST hostel into a centre … up until then we had nothing and I don’t know if there are any such centres in other villages … I don’t think so. What else can I do?,” Shiva told ThePrint.
Noting that he has a family of four and “cannot let anyone get affected because of me”, Shiva said he decided to isolate on the tree.
“I don’t know if the village volunteers told the sarpanch about me testing positive. No one in my village came forward to help me. They’re all scared of the virus … they’re not stepping out of their homes,” he added.
ThePrint reached village sarpanch Balu Naik via phone call but didn’t receive a response till the time of publishing this report. ThePrint also reached District Collector Prashanth Jeevan Patil via phone calls and a text message, but is yet to receive a response.
Disconnected but on Google Maps
When ThePrint called Shiva on his mobile phone for directions to reach the village, his instant response was that his hamlet can be located on Google Maps.
On reaching his location on 15 May, ThePrint was greeted with a view of Shiva perched on his mattress in his makeshift Covid ‘isolation ward’ on the tree. The tree is within the compound of his home. Shiva had fashioned a pulley system using rope and a bucket. His daily meals and other requirements are sent to him using this pulley system.
On the tree, Shiva spends much of this time on his phone, which he keeps in a tiny basket tied to the tree. He is a student pursuing a graduate course in Hyderabad. He had returned to his village about a month ago when cases in the city were rising.
“My husband and I are daily wage workers and he (Shiva) has two siblings. My son understood that if we get infected, then it would be difficult for the family to survive with no earnings. The ASHA workers told us to isolate him, but did not ask us if we had a provision to isolate him at home. We travelled 5 kms to reach the nearest PHC, but there were no beds there. Where would we keep him?” Anasuya, Shiva’s 38-year-old mother told ThePrint in Telugu.
The house has only one washroom, built inside the home, so Shiva goes out to the fields after sunset.
After ThePrint reached his house, other residents began gathering to find out what was happening. “Is he Covid positive?”, “Did he speak anything against the sarpanch (village head)?” were among the questions that floated around.
As word spread and more residents gathered, the police reached Shiva’s house. This was the first they were seeing or hearing about Shiva and his ‘isolation ward’. They later moved the young man to the ST hostel that had been converted to an isolation centre, located 5 kms away from the hamlet.
After he was moved, Shiva speaking to ThePrint over the phone, said he would be sent back home after the isolation period was completed.
“We did not know he was living like this. There are 13 hamlets under this mandal and having an isolation centre in every village would be a task … the health officials will have to visit every one of them,” Veera Shekar, the Station House Office at Adavidevulapally mandal Police Station said.
“Since cases are also rising in these villages, a task force was set up recently and all village heads decided that they would have one isolation centre for the villages. So, a ST hostel was converted into (an isolation centre) one-two days ago.”
Others isolate in bathrooms, fields
As it turns out, Shiva isn’t the only to have found a fix to his predicament. Others in the village have been using bathrooms, staying in the fields and building makeshift huts, according to village resident Mahesh Goud.
Goud refused to point out which houses had done this, saying it could cause problems since many in the village weren’t aware of who all had tested positive.
“This (Shiva) is not the only incident — they’re staying in fields, bathrooms, making some temporary arrangements using gunny sacks and all. No one wants to tell anyone that they’re infected because other families will outcast them and they’re not welcome anywhere even after they recover,” he said, adding, “The PHC has no testing kits. If 100 people go for a test, they conduct tests on only 20 people. They tell us there are no kits. There is no social distancing,” Goud further said.
The Nalgonda district is among the worst-affected in the state, recording 199 new cases on 15 May, going up from 116 daily cases a month ago. Telangana has so far reported 5,25,007 cases, of which 53,072 are currently under treatment or isolation, according to the state bulletin.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)