Mon | Sep 28, 2020

India surpasses 2 million cases as health volunteers strike

Published:Friday | August 7, 2020 | 9:32 AM
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample for COVID- 19 testing through rapid antigen methodology, in New Delhi, India, Friday, August 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI (AP) — As India hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, crossing two million confirmed cases and more than 41,000 deaths, community health volunteers went on strike complaining they were ill-equipped to respond to the wave of infection in rural areas.

Even as India has maintained comparatively low mortality rates, the disease has spread widely across the country, with the burden shifting in recent weeks from cities with robust health systems to rural areas, where resources are scarce or nonexistent.

The Health Ministry reported 62,538 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s confirmed total to 2,027,074.

It said 886 more people had died, for a total of 41,585.

But the ministry said that recoveries were growing. India has the third-highest caseload in the world after the United States and Brazil.

It has the fifth-most deaths but its fatality rate of about 2% is far lower than the top two hardest-hit countries.

The rate in the US is 3.3%, and in Brazil 3.4%, Johns Hopkins University figures show.

The caseload in the country of 1.3 billion has quickly expanded since the government began lifting a monthslong lockdown hoping to jump-start a moribund economy.

India is projecting an economic contraction in 2020.

Around 900,000 members of an all-female community health force began a two-day strike on Friday, protesting that they were being roped in to help with contact tracing, personal hygiene drives and in quarantine centers, but weren’t given personal protective equipment or additional pay, according to organiser A.R. Sindhu.

The health workers, known as Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA, which means ‘hope’ in several Indian languages, have been deployed in each village on behalf of the Health Ministry.

Their work ranges from escorting children to immunisation clinics to counselling women on childbirth.

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