It also takes courage and determination and both are in abundance among health workers, who trek the snow-capped mountains to vaccinate villagers in some of the most remote villages.
Unfazed by harsh weather conditions, health workers vaccinate children aged 15 to 18 and people over 60 on their doorstep as they navigate through snow-capped mountains.
“The snowy paths may look lovely, but they are very slippery and hard,” remarked Kavita Negi, a health worker in Chitkul, the last inhabited village in Kinnaur district near the Indo-China border.
Carrying blue vaccine boxes on their shoulders, Kavita and other health workers were on a two-hour trek to remote villages.
Moderate to heavy snowfall last week cut off the road network to several remote villages and hamlets for several days, mainly in Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur, Chamba, Kullu, Mandi and Shimla districts.
India’s Press Information Bureau released an inspiring video of healthcare workers trudging along snowy paths visiting villages for vaccines.
Similarly, a video tweeted by Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya shows health workers walking through snow in Kinnaur on their way to a school to vaccinate children aged 15-18.
It’s hard work, but he is determined to protect the children. “Since the last heavy snowfall on January 8, we have been providing vaccines to children in schools,” block doctor Tenzin Norbu, who is stationed at Kaza, Spiti’s headquarters, told IANS at around 350 km from the state capital, Shimla. by telephone.
He said healthcare workers had to trek through more than a foot of snow for hours, if not days, to reach remote public schools to vaccinate students, who were also having trouble reaching school due to snow accumulation on the roads.
Today (January 14), his team left for the village of Losar, about 50 km from Kaza, to deliver the vaccine.
“We sent the first vaccination team to Losar which was cut off from the rest of the district due to heavy snowfall. Our team has to travel several miles through more than two feet of snow from the nearest starting point to reach the government school where we plan to vaccinate 50 to 60 children,” added Norbu, who feels proud to do this. work to serve the community.
Isolated and tribal communities such as those in this village of Losar are among the most vulnerable to the spread of the virus as they are reluctant to go to hospitals as they believe they will automatically be treated with the blessing of a local deity.
Kaza, which is home to 650 children between the ages of 15 and 18, was the first in the state to sanitize the entire block to prevent the spread of the pandemic in 2020. A total of 275 children have been vaccinated through 14 January.
The picturesque Spiti Valley, a cold desert dotted with tiny hamlets spread over the Himalayan peaks, adjoining Tibet, takes you to a land of Buddhism and pristine nature. It is populated mainly by tribes, who are largely farmers growing barley, potatoes, wheat and black peas.
The climatic conditions of the district are harsh as much of the land is part of a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius during the winters.
But health authorities are determined not to let roadblocks stand in their way. They plan to take the vaccination program to new heights by crossing on horseback or even airlifting the vaccine to reach remote dwellings as in previous pulse polio programs.
Officials told IANS that vaccinating the elderly with a booster dose will be a difficult task as a large population lives in rural areas and transporting the vaccine there would be a big hurdle.
Health officials say their staff will have to walk at least three days from the nearest roadheads to the farthest hamlet of Bara Bhangal in Kangra district for the vaccination programme.
The drive to Bara Bhangal, part of the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary which remains cut off from the rest of the world for more than six months due to heavy snowfall, is 65 km from the last village connected by road.
As the whole region is under a heavy snowpack, it will not be possible to send a team there on foot, added a health official. Air transport of the vaccine is the only option.
Bara Bhangal has about 400 inhabitants. During winters, a large population migrates to Bir village at Baijnath tehsil, near Palampur town, about 250 km from the state capital, Shimla.
Bara Bhangal is accessible on foot via the Thamsar pass, located at 4,700 meters above sea level.
Last month, Himachal Pradesh became the first state to fully vaccinate 100% of its eligible population against the coronavirus.
Health officials told IANS that at least 30 villages in Lahaul-Spiti and an equal number in Kinnaur are located at elevations ranging from 9,000ft to 15,000ft above mean sea level. Pangi segment in Chamba district has more than a dozen such villages.
The villages of Kunnu and Charang in Kinnaur’s Pooh subdivision, known for growing peas, are among the most remote settlements where residents have to travel about 15-20 km to reach a nearby health center. While Charang has 50 households, Kunnu has 30.
There are several hamlets in Lahaul-Spiti district and Pangi in Chamba district where people have to walk more than 10 km to reach the health center.
Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti are part of the vast Mandi parliamentary constituency which covers almost two-thirds of the hill state. The Buddhist-dominated districts in the Himalayan terrain, with elevations ranging from 15,000 feet to 20,000 feet above mean sea level, share a porous border with China.
Himachal Pradesh aims to vaccinate around 357,450 children between the ages of 15 and 18. A total of 4,259 educational institutions would be covered by this campaign, which includes 2,801 public, 1,402 private and 56 other educational institutions.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])