In this rural Karnataka belt, Covid cases are rising but tests have dipped to just 10 a day
Organisation: ThePrint, New Delhi
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 23/05/2021
Credit: Neelam Pandey, Praveen Jain
Neelam Pandey, a Senior Associate Editor from ThePrint.
She is a Delhi based reporter with over 15 years of experience, currently working with a digital platform, in New Delhi.
Before joining ThPrint, she worked as a Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times for ten years. In her 15 years in journalism, she has covered politics, and policy apart from writing on various other social issues concentrating on women and children. She was recently awarded a PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia on Feminist and Dalit Publishing Houses. She was a part of “The Economist” newsroom as a 2015 Chevening Fellow, London. She has completed her Masters and Bachelors in English (Hons) from Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University post which she pursued MPhil in English Literature. She was awarded the Ramnath Goenka’s “The Prakash Kardaley memorial award for civic journalism” (awarded to team HT) for coverage of the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and was the recipient of Shreshtha Award for reporting on homeless in Delhi from the “Indo Global Social Service Society, a non-profit organization.
Praveen Jain is the ThePrint’s National Photo Editor.
As the second wave of Covid-19 hit India, ThePrint decided to take stock of the healthcare situation in the southern parts of India while focusing on data. The Karnataka government’s handling of the Covid-19 spread at Hallegere village in Mandya was an unflattering microcosm of its efforts in tackling the pandemic in rural areas where cases were surging. The government had simply reduced testing. The health centre we visited used to conduct 200-300 tests every week in April but was reduced to 50-60 in a week in May.
As part of the story ThePrint raised these questions of reduced testign with the government and soon after the publication of the story testing was carried out in a more systematic manner. ThePrint also reached out to the health minister as part of the story who assured that testing would be carried out in a systematic manner and vaccination too would be carried out smoothly.
As a part of the story, apart from data crunching, we relied on getting first-hand information from the hospitals, healthcare centres, doctors and even the villagers. We had to make rounds of the healthcare centres and hospitals to collect data manually. However, to ensure the data was analysed properly it used to be fed into our excel sheets. At the same time, mobile phones were used to shoot videos to show the current situation. This was important as it also served as evidence of our ground work in case of any dispute. Byte collection at the healthcare centre was also done using hand-held devices and for conducting voxpop.
What was the hardest part of this project?
This project was carried out at a time when India was battling the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which was much more devastating than the first wave. The country was facing an immense shortage of hospital beds, medicines and even oxygen. This was a time when non-essential traveling had almost come to a halt. While vaccination had started, journalists were not included under the essential workers and hence I was not vaccinated when I was asked to undertake this project. As I chalked out the plan to cover the rural areas in Karnataka which was witnessing a huge spike in cases I managed to get the first dose. A number of doctors had then advised not to travel immediately after getting the first dose of the vaccine. But I did. As a lockdown had been imposed in the state, right from finding hotels and cabs was a difficult task. As a journalist I wanted to focus on the rural areas armed with data, something which was being ignored by the mainstream. Wearing double masks and shields, it was quite a task to travel in the interiors and get information as many restrictions on travel were imposed by the government too. From visiting villages, crematoriums, hospitals, primary healthcare centres, the project involved focusing on numbers so that we could let data speak for itself. Language barrier was also a major issue, as in the rural parts of Karnataka, Kannada is spoken. The hardest part of the project was to witness death, devastation and grimness all around and still focus on collecting data. Equally difficult was to visit the hospitals at a time where the risk of contracting Covid-19 was the highest. However, despite all these constraints I managed to complete the deep-dive.
What can others learn from this project?
There’s a lot that I learnt from this project and I hope others will also benefit from it. So far the stories were focusing on the human aspect (equally significant). However, I realised that with data you can question the authorities to take stock of the situation and demand changes. The fact that I visited the villages, healthcare centres and hospitals myself rather than relying on data provided by the government helped in questioning the authorities and ensuring that testing was increased. Despite the fact that the state was under a lockdown, the fact that I was able to travel and bring out stories from far-flung areas is proof that if one plans systematically such stories can be covered too.