Is Ignorance Deadlier Than a Virus?

Story by Surbhi

The COVID-19 pandemic took over the world within months. It is now the most chaotic and overwhelming event our generation has ever seen. On one side, we see families banging their utensils on their balconies as a sign of gratitude towards the health-care providers. On the other, news of violence against those same health-care providers seems rather ironic.

I serve as a doctor in the interiors of Uttrakhand. There are numerous villages that lie scattered within the hilly terrain. At times, I need to work with the local villagers and it can be challenging. They are ignorant about their health and do not give importance to regular checkups. They refuse to listen to our advice as well. Somewhere their superstitions and social environment makes them rigid and stubborn. I understand that they are unaware but I do feel helpless and frustrated when they don’t even care to listen.

This pandemic brought changes to my routine as the burden on the health care sector is immense. Apart from spending countless hours at the hospital, I also need to travel to the nearby villages to provide the villagers with a free COVID-19 screening and check-ups. The sample kits which can cost thousands of rupees in any city are free for villagers. Most villages are inaccessible by a car. So, my team and I have to walk several kilometers with the sample kits to reach one. Villagers are so apprehensive that they argue and fight if we ask them to get screened for the virus. Despite our efforts and the government’s aid, we face resistance. I even hear of doctors being stoned down by villagers.

I understand that this hostile and uncooperative attitude comes from fear. They are afraid of either being boycotted if they were to test positive or the bread-earner of the family were to test positive. I have seen this attitude even in educated people of cities. When the pandemic was still in the initial phase, the hospital was given a list to test all those who had recently travelled outside or within the country. Most of them refused to get tested and would begin a fight. If anyone was to go to their houses for screening them, they would be kicked out.

People tend to forget that doctors are more susceptible to the virus as we constantly work with patients who are infected and we conduct tests for all the suspected patients. Wearing PPEs for such long hours, especially during field visit is not a joke. I have fainted once while collecting samples in a village during the scorching heat of the day. Yet, we put the patients’ health and safety before ours as it is our responsibility to provide for them. We have even sacrificed our own personal life. We haven’t gone to our homes since the pandemic as we don’t want carry the infection to our homes. I feel hurt and humiliated when my efforts are met with apathy.

I strongly believe that the only way we can make a concrete change is by reaching a common ground between doctors and patients. Through cooperation and an open mind, we really can fight this pandemic and many other diseases that come from a negative approach towards medicine and doctors. I hope we get our due respect and the whole negative impression about doctors and the medical field changes by the end of this pandemic. Let’s not just kill the virus but also kill the ignorance, the superstations and the overall hatred towards the medical community.

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