Hilly terrain, inclement weather pose challenges to HP’s corona warriors

Shimla, Jan 3 : With authorities gearing up to undertake the coronavirus vaccination in the coming weeks, tough Himalayan terrain and inclement weather conditions in Himachal Pradesh are likely to put up roadblocks in the hill state's immunisation plans.

Officials say these villages are located across Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts and interiors of Chamba, Kullu, Sirmaur and Shimla districts.

But the health authorities are determined not to let roadblocks come in their way.

They plan to take the immunisation programme to new heights by trudging miles of rugged, cold and inhospitable Himalayan terrains, sometimes traversing on horsebacks or even airlifting the vaccine to reach remote habitations like the previous pulse polio programmes.

Officials told IANS that vaccinating the elderly will be a challenge as a large population lived in rural areas, where maintaining cold chain facilities and ferrying the vaccine would be a big hurdle.

But they say they won't see a vaccine phase for the elderly people before April in India.

Chief Medical Officer Gurdarshan Gupta, who is posted in Dharamsala in Kangra district, told IANS on Sunday that in the first and second phases of Covid-19 vaccine inoculation, only healthcare and frontline staff would be given the shots.

The phase to vaccinate the elderly will come thereafter -- somewhere in April-May.

"A large number of elderly people living in remote villages across the district normally move to lower elevations during winter," he pointed out.

Health officials say their staff will have to traverse at least three days on foot from the nearest road heads to the remotest hamlet Bara Bhangal in Kangra district for the vaccination programme.

The journey for Bara Bhangal, part of the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary that remains cut off from the rest of the world for over six months due to heavy snow, is 65 km from the last village that is connected by road.

And if that entire region remains under heavy snow cover at that time, it won't be possible to send a team there on foot, a health official added.

In such case, airlifting the vaccine is the only option.

Bara Bhangal has a population of around 400.

During winters, most of them migrate to Bir village in Baijnath tehsil, near Palampur town, some 250 km from state capital Shimla.

"These days, 147 people, mostly young persons, remain in the village.

So if the situation demands at the time of inoculation, we will take the help of local administration to airlift the vaccine to those far-off places," the Chief Medical Officer added.

Bara Bhangal is accessible on foot through the Thamsar Pass, located at an attitude of 4,700 metres.

On several occasions, the Election Commission has shifted the lone polling booth at Bara Bhangal to Bir, citing administrative reasons.

Health officials told IANS that at least 30 villages in Lahaul-Spiti and equal number in Kinnaur are located at altitudes ranging from 9,000 feet to 15,000 feet above mean sea level.

The Pangi segment in Chamba district has over a dozen such villages.

Kunnu and Charang villages in Kinnaur's Pooh subdivision, known for growing peas, are among the remotest habitats where locals have to trudge some 15-20 km to reach nearby health centre.

While Charang has 50 households, Kunnu has 30.

Octogenarian Jeevan Negi said the health services in Charang village are literally bad.

"For want of medication, one has to travel either to Shimla or to Chandigarh."

Locals rue that the condition of road is so bad that they can't even walk on it.

Large pits pose threat of accidents.

There are several hamlets across Lahaul-Spiti district and Pangi in Chamba district where locals have to trek more than 10 km to reach the health centre.

Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti are part of the sprawling Mandi parliamentary constituency that covers almost two third of the hill state.

The Buddhist-dominated districts in the Himalayan terrain, with elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet above the mean sea level share a porous border with China.

Last month, the world's highest post office Hikkam in Spiti Valley at a height of 15,000 feet above the sea level and currently covered in a thick blanket of snow was hit by the coronavirus.

Hikkam has a population of 200.

Also, nearby villages Komik and Langche too were hit by the virus.

They support populations of 87 and 136 respectively.

Authorities blamed the locals, who are largely Buddhist farmers growing barley, potatoes, wheat and black peas, for the virus spread as they were reluctant to go to hospitals owing to belief that they will be automatically cured with the blessings of a local deity.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)



Source: IANS