The second wave of Covid-19 has devastated most parts of the country, overwhelming the already stressed health infrastructure. With the anticipated third wave and beyond, preparedness for facing the challenges ahead has to be significantly higher than in the past. In this context, it would be useful to consider three possible ways to tap the capabilities of digital technology, namely to create awareness about Covid centric life threatening matters, building trust with the community to adopt the right practices and support data collection that would enrich our understanding to deal with Covid better.
The first area concerns the need to create awareness around safety, hygiene and precautions to be taken. While there has been a widespread and regular communication using mass media, there is a need to train community youth and women to support the community members on the key aspects around Covid on overcoming the fear factor as well as suggesting proven methods to deal with the pandemic. This can be best done via virtual training with the help of appropriate digital tools and it would be feasible to speedily upskill at regular intervals as well as mass customise the training based on specific needs of communities at minimal costs.
The reasons for the need to put in place a large scale countrywide digital training initiative to build a cohort of Covid support teams are several. Some people when infected by Covid may not be able to access hospitals or are not required to be in the hospital for medical care. They would benefit by personalised attention and timely advice of the trained personnel.
To combat the pandemic, India needs to vaccinate its population urgently. It is anticipated the current vaccine shortage will be addressed with adequate vaccine supplies in the coming months and the focus will shift to encouraging people specially in the communities and rural areas to come forward for vaccination. It would be possible to achieve this with the help of tens of thousands of certified volunteers from within the communities equipped with the right information and digital tools.
Another way to minimise the impact of pandemic is to collect all sorts of data that would help with epidemiological studies, develop insights from patterns of data and feed these inputs quickly to the medical fraternity and citizens for making course corrections on treatments, testing and other parameters influencing infections. The same cohort of trained personnel could be encouraged to collect such data with the help of user friendly digital tools and make it available to the labs and researchers to find ways to contain the disease.
The training programme will not only equip the youth and women with the skills required to guide their families and the communities during the pandemic, but will also provide them the required foundation to build careers. Given the loss of jobs of earning members and concerns for finding suitable employment after the series of lockdowns, the proposed programme will enable the youth to develop the right orientation and preparedness for employment. The opportunities for employment upon completion of the proposed training include positions such as care-givers at homes or at communities and healthcare support staff in community health centres, hospitals and clinics—thus paving the way for their economic well-being.