The DHAN Foundation reaches out to low income communities in India to provide support during Coronavirus pandemic

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

When considering the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in India local ICMIF member The DHAN Foundation observed two major impacts in Indian society. One was on health of the individuals that were affected by the COVID-19 virus and the other was the impact on the livelihoods of poor and marginal workers, mostly daily wage earners and small/micro entrepreneurs.  The DHAN Foundation works at the grassroots level in India and the organisation says it is driven to help to connect this community to ways it can get help via the entitlement program from the Indian Government and they also want to help support the poor to revive their lives during post-COVID period.

After a rapid assessment of the situation in India, The DHAN Foundation was very quickly aware that a significant number of migrant workers who found themselves stuck in destination locations and unable to return to their homes were suffering a lot due to the pandemic. So, special focus has and is being provided to such poor, vulnerable migrants as part of DHAN’s intervention during the pandemic.

The following activities are being carried out at present in The DHAN Foundation project areas.

  • DHAN field staff are working in the community to raise awareness of the pandemic, preventative measures and associated health advice has been shared among the community through various mediums.
  • DHAN is reaching the community through mobile communication using its 3000 field workers and professionals to advise them to stay at home and practice regular hand washing and sanitizing. Around 10,000 community volunteers also involved in the process. In DHAN’s project locations, 50 field health associates and coordinators are working to reach out around 30,000 households. 
  • In Madurai and other seven locations in four states, DHAN is using its community hospitals to provide medical tele-consultations for members of the community who need medical advice for ailments and guidance. Around 15 medical professionals are being involved in the process. Most medical practices are closed and people have struggled to get regular and chronic medicines. Medicine are being distributed through mobile clinical vehicles in eight places across four states including Madurai City. 
  • The DHAN Foundation is supporting the Madurai City Corporation and its Health Department in Madurai to provide coats and sprayers for cleaning and disinfecting

In reports from the field, DHAN workers are saying that many of their members are involved in agricultural labour and many families’ livelihoods are being affected by Covid 19. Many people are not able to work, small businesses cannot function due to lockdown, small level producers are not getting sufficient income for products such as milk and vegetables. Members who have livestock are unable to feed them due to the current lockdown and for vegetable growers it is impossible to move crops to where they can be sold. All these factors, say the DHAN workers, mean that people are unable to meet their basic needs and also that they are unable to repay any loans or contribute to any savings plans at this time.

DHAN Field workers are using telephones and WhatsApp to share the key messages about the virus to members and local communities. Some local members have formed committees to spread the official advice about the virus. DHAN Foundation has provided face masks and sanitisers to all field workers to try to protect them.

In more remote, tribal areas of India, DHAN workers are reporting that many migrants are returning from other states to the tribal villages. There is a high chance of an increase of positive cases as most people in these villages are not following isolation guidelines and, even if they try, it is very difficult to maintain due to lack of separate rooms in homes. Most tribal people share a home with just one room. It has also been found that more than 70% of tribal people don’t know about the causes, symptoms, consequences and precautionary measures for COVID-19. They believe that COVID-19 is only spreading in foreign counties and there will not be infections in their tribal locality. Poverty is also a problem as many tribal people are unable to work due to lockdown.

The DHAN Foundation has been working to try to create awareness among interior tribal people in India. Training was given to local health associates to enable them to understand the causes, symptoms, consequences and precautions so that they could then try to educate the local tribal people but unfortunately it was not possible to reach everyone due to the lockdown.

The DHAN Foundation also carried out an awareness campaign through a traditional Indian method of using a chariot (known as a Ratha) and passing through villages to grow awareness of the virus and its implications. This Ratha covered more than 40 villages to try to raise awareness amongst nearly 30,000 tribal people.

Other initiatives include training people to sew face masks and providing the raw materials to produce them. As of the end of March, more than 1000 masks had been made and distributed among the tribal villagers. The DHAN Foundation produced 1000 leaflets on the awareness messages about the coronavirus to circulate among the tribal people.

Demonstrations on how to wear a face masks, how to wash hands and social distancing have been carried out and a documentary film was prepared with the involvement of members of the local tribal communities in the local language to create awareness among the tribal people.