Many families do not have RT-PCR test reports to prove the cause of death, they tell govt.
Health rights groups in Rajasthan have sought extension of benefits of a financial assistance package for children and women who lost their parents and husbands, respectively, during the pandemic to all deserving cases through “verbal autopsies”. The benefits are being denied in the absence of the RT-PCR test reports.
A large number of families, especially in the rural and remote areas, which have had COVID-19 deaths, are being denied the mandated benefits under the Chief Minister’s Corona Sahayata Yojana essentially because they do not have RT-PCR test reports to prove the cause of death.
Rigid eligibility criteria
While the scheme was initiated with the intent to financially support women and children from the poorest and the most marginalised sections of society, they were being excluded from its benefits because of the “rigid eligibility criteria”, said the activists here on Tuesday.
The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), which functions as the Rajasthan chapter of the People’s Health Movement, said most of these families had resided in areas with poor availability and accessibility to health care information and services. “They often remain deprived of even basic health care, not to speak of COVID-19 tests and treatment,” Chhaya Pachauli, director of voluntary group Prayas, said.
In a joint appeal submitted to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, the JSA and 64 other civil society groups pointed out that there were enough reports and local studies and anecdotes suggesting that the rural areas had witnessed an unusually high number of deaths during the second wave earlier this year.
“While some of these fatalities were officially confirmed as COVID-19 deaths, many who had COVID-like symptoms but could not avail of medical tests or care died at home without any RT-PCR reports to validate that they were corona positive,” said the memorandum. The lockdowns had made it difficult for these populations to access diagnostics or medical care, it said.
The health rights groups said instead of treating the RT-PCR test report as the only eligibility criteria, a process of verbal autopsies should be introduced to validate the claims of death by any family which applied for the scheme without the RT-PCR report.
The autopsies should be conducted in the village panchayats by the government-appointed teams comprising both qualified doctors and public health experts through a clearly laid out procedure and a pre-designed format. If the teams confirmed the suspected reason of death as COVID-19, the claimants must be provided the benefits of the scheme, Ms. Pachauli said.
The memorandum affirmed that the verbal autopsies, conducted through questionnaires to collect information about symptoms and demographic characteristics of the deceased from the individuals familiar with them, would help make the scheme actually reach those who needed it the most.
The civil society groups which joined the JSA in making the appeal included Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Centre for Equity Studies, Mahila Punarvaas Samooh, Vividha, Adivasi Vikas Manch and Citizens for Social Action.
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