The bitter truth

By Toki Blah

We open the morning papers each day and scan for news on the status of the Covid plague that has hit us. There is anxious hope against hope that there would be some encouraging news of a decline in infections and fatalities, since Hope seems to be the only sustaining factor left. Alas, the bitter truth has so far been contrary to expectations. It then hits us in the face that there is hardly anything of cheer on this front. As a matter of fact things appear to be sliding from bad to worse. If the national review meeting on Covid chaired by Union Health Secretary , Rajesh Bhushan is to be believed, and there are absolutely no grounds to disbelieve it, Meghalaya is listed as one of the ten hapless states in India where the pandemic is merrily continuing its rampage of death and destruction. Not only are precious lives being lost daily but the terrible truth is that whatever fragile economy we enjoy is also rapidly being destroyed. Our lives, our health, our livelihoods and the future of our children is now at stake. People are worried but the bitter truth is that we ourselves are perpetuating this calamity that has befallen our community and our state.
The Covid 19 pandemic is a world-wide phenomenon. It is not restricted to only Meghalaya and its communities. Globally as human beings we have so far developed only two responses to the disease. We either enforce social isolation through lockdowns and curfews or imbibe herd immunity through vaccination. There are no other available solutions. Prolonged or continuous lockdowns have a terrible and harmful impact psychologically, culturally and economically and Meghalaya is experiencing it. Trade, commerce and most significantly the livelihoods of the most vulnerable of society – the daily wage earner will and has been severely impacted. We are seeing this happening in most urban centres of our own state and the spectre of hunger and perhaps even cases of eventual starvation deaths cannot be ruled out if lockdowns are the only solutions we depend on. This has to change. People should be able to go about their daily routines without fear and worry. Our children must be able to attend school and centres of learning. Commerce and trade must once again resume as it should. Markets must open up and people should be able to travel freely wherever they want to go. Life must return to normalcy. Lockdowns are no answer to the pandemic and they must end as early as possible. Otherwise, we will slide down the scale of development to such an extent that it will take our future generations the next 100 years to catchup with the rest of the world. Its something we can ill afford.
So we are left with vaccination as the only other proven method of successfully warding off the pandemic. Now with more than 500 infections daily and the Covid death toll refusing to taper off and with a Meghalaya 74.43% rate of literacy as per 2011 population census, one would have expected a rush of citizens demanding to be vaccinated. That is what is expected of educated people. Instead the opposite is happening in our state. A reluctance to be vaccinated seems to be the prevailing trend, so much so that Meghalaya is ranked as the lowest vaccinated state in the NE. So why this hesitation to get vaccinated? Most people answer that they have the fundamental right to refuse and that force or coercion must not be used to enforce vaccination. That’s fine but since there is no evidence of Government employing this approach, this excuse sounds silly and frivolous. What is becoming more evident is that anti-vaxxers are being influenced more by rumour, hearsay, unfounded gossip, by con-artists (usually posing as pious, bible thumping God men) or even by elected representatives who are more interested in populist votes than in real service to humanity. Look we are dealing with a deadly disease that can impair, harm and has already caused more than a thousand deaths. As educated people we have always used our common sense and consulted qualified doctors in relation to our health. Why are we ignoring this proven practice with regard to Covid ? Please consult a qualified doctor on how to prevent, treat and manage the virus. Listen to his advice. Listening to quacks, charlatans and cranks (especially those who lecture and teach from Whatsapp University) is the worst service you can do to yourself and your loved ones in a prevailing pandemic.
The real need of the hour if Meghalaya is to save its population from the pandemic and to salvage its crumbling fragile economy is to minimise the impact of the anticipated Covid Third wave. This can be done only if we develop herd immunity through a rigorous vaccination of our population, especially in the rural areas. The common man must be made to understand that vaccination, as in the case of smallpox, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis, tuberculosis and other life-threatening diseases simply helps in the production of antibodies that assist in suppgressing the ruthlessness of the disease. It will minimise fatalities(91% of vaccinated Covid patients survive. Chances of those who don’t are almost nil). Covid vaccination will in no way cause barrenness or infertility; it will not cause death or other health complications; it has nothing to do with an alleged worldwide plot to wipe out indigenous people nor is it a state Government conspiracy to get more funding from the Centre. All the above are unfounded fears of ignorant minds and waging tongues that refuse to accept reality and the reality is that Covid is a disease that kills unless vaccination is taken to nullify its lethality.
One cannot deny nor refute the fact that the Government of Meghalaya is doing its level best to contain the pandemic by encouraging mass vaccination among the public. The results however are disappointing and perhaps part of the blame lies with Government for its stubborn refusal to accept practical reality. Unlike during the first wave of the Covid crisis, this time the Government has decided to go it alone. The effort to bring on board the active participation of the grassroot institutions of the state is clearly missing. Public and Dorbar participation in the vaccination drive is clearly lacking; the community enthusiasm to be voluntarily involved is not visible and the brisk energetic engagement of people is missing. Look here, let’s be blunt and to the point and the point is to prevent more of our people from dying. For this to happen both the Government and the Dorbars must work together towards a common goal and that goal is to get the maximum number of people vaccinated as fast a s possible. Sorry to say but this time the Government has failed to bring in the Headmen and grassroot institutions as stakeholders in the Covid vaccination drive of the administration. There was no agenda towards a joint stakeholdership for public awareness and enlightenment to push the vaccination programme to its logical conclusion. Thus gaps in society were left wide open for Doubting Thomases to sow their seeds of suspicion and scepticism. Government must recognise it has neither the human resources nor the commitment for 24×7 dialogue with communities. On the other hand Dorbars exist, work and operate continuously amongst the communities. It is high time once again for the Government and the Dorbars to work together towards a common objective – service to the people and to prevent further deaths from Covid.
If the pandemic is to be stopped, we must have maximum vaccination. If we want normalcy to return we must learn to work together and not as isolated silos. To call a spade a spade , this time the Dorbars have failed to show the unity of purpose they did during the first wave crisis. To give the Government its due, if there is no Dorbar unity , then to whom does the administration talk to? Dorbars however also have their own set of grievances , chief among them the neglect the Government has shown towards Dorbar shortcomings especially the dearth of funds to meet expenses and financial commitments in the fight against Covid. Well we simply can’t leave it at that. We can sit across the table and sort out our differences. Public interest and public health demands it so. If public enlightenment on vaccination is the need of the day; if vaccine hesitancy is to be erased, then Government and Dorbars must work together towards this common goal. A new Health Minister has taken over. Let this be one of his priorities. Only if we work together as one can this pandemic be defeated. Let us not waste this opportunity. Hurt and inflated egos should not determine the outcome of a health crisis we are facing as a people, a community and a state.

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