The Assam Community Surveillance Plan (ACSP), as the drive has been named, has been undertaken to break the chain of transmission through active vigil. In the first wave of the pandemic last year, a similar initiative was carried out in the villages. Isolation of all positive cases is the primary goal of the drive to ascertain the magnitude of the Covid-19 transmission. But the actual target is beyond that and has been named ‘Covid Plus’, to enlist potential cases of severe acute respiratory infections (SARI), influenza like illness (ILI), fever or any other health issues.
Many cases of malaria, dengue and vector-borne diseases like Japanese Encephalitis (JE) are suspected to have been covered up fearing Covid-19 detection. However, as the health department launched the initiative for the third time, villagers in many parts of the state fear there would be some kind of ‘raid’ in their homes to detect the positive cases. “We learnt that health department teams will just break into our premises and conduct Covid tests on us. Many people have already tested Covid positive after suffering from a common cold and even a little bit of fever,” said Abdul Halim of Duttakuchi in Barpeta.
Irrespective of communities, misbelief has also gripped some families of men losing their fertility after the inoculation. Similar was the approach of some people when the government took the JE vaccination drive to the grassroots. In 2017, several government-run schools in Barpeta, Nalbari and Kamrup districts saw a number of students being absent for days. Their guardians did not allow them to go to school fearing that the JE vaccine would lead to infertility among them.
Years later, a more lethal virus has penetrated most interiors of the state where illiteracy has always been a kind of obstacle in conducting health awareness campaigns. And the approach remains the same, believing myths over science. “Most people are hesitant to get tested. They fear the virus will get detected and their oxygen level will go down. On the vaccination front too, many are not registering only because of the infertility fear,” said Dipjyoti Das of Tantipara near Guwahati Airport.
Health minister Keshab Mahanta urged everyone to cooperate in breaking the chain of infection in the villages. The top priority, after the daily cases in Guwahati came under control, is to contain the virus spread in the villages. “Testing has been increased so that all positive cases are detected. There is nothing to worry, as the government has taken full responsibility for their treatment, if tested positive,” Mahanta said in Lakhimpur district on Tuesday.
Though the drive could not be intensified on the first day itself, health officials said without symptoms or contact tracing, health staff won’t go for testing everyone in a family without consent. Executive director of Assam National Health Mission, Dr Manoj Choudhury, told TOI that the door-to-door visit is aimed at helping people who have not been able to pay a visit to testing centres. “Testing is always voluntary. No one will be forced to go through testing, unless necessary. Our target is to reach out to every corner,” he added.