Popatrao Pawar’s Hiware Bazar shows the way in Covid mitigation

Hiware Bazar, a village in Ahmednagar district with a population of just 1,650 people, shot into prominence more than a decade ago for its watershed and local development programmes effected through public participation.

Popatrao Pawar, the village’s long-time sarpanch and the man credited with its progress, has once again shown the way, this time in handling Covid mitigation. His effort, known as the ‘Popatrao Pawar model’, drew the attention of Ahmednagar district collector Rajendra Bhosale who got the district administration to replicate it elsewhere. It also drew praise before PM Narendra Modi during a video-conferencing meeting with a group of district collectors on Thursday.

Hiware Bazar, about 115km from Pune, remained Covid-free throughout the first wave between March and December last year. However, on March 20 this year, the village reported its first Covid case amid the second wave. By April 15, the village had 47 cases and two deaths — prompting Pawar and his group of committed activists to look at an effective strategy to curb the spread.

By April 30, the village achieved a no-fresh infection status through a series of measures, including door-to-door surveys, tracing of people with symptoms, restricting incoming and outgoing movement, creating separate isolation centres for the infected, reducing their interaction with the local people, testing of farm workers and sustained awareness.

“The district health department has not found a single new Covid positive case in its survey in the last 20 days,” Pawar said over the phone, while pointing out that only one patient, infected prior to April 30, was taking treatment in hospital.

Collector Bhosale said, “The model adopted by the Hiware Bazar sarpanch was an eye-opener. I had a two-hour discussion with him at the village. We later decided to replicate his model in all 1,300 gram panchayats in the district.”

Both Bhosale and Pawar interacted with the gram panchayat members via video conferencing for two days where Pawar explained his model to make villages Covid-free. “My feedback is that these gram panchayats have started implementing the measures,” said Bhosale.

Pawar recalled the days of the first few Covid cases in the village and said, “We set up a Covid committee and forming five separate teams involving teachers, educated youth and local leaders. They were given PPE kits, hand gloves, masks and sanitisers for the doorstep surveys, which helped identify those with symptoms. We used rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests to further identify positive people and isolate them in the village quarantine facility. We ensured proper medical care for them. I would call up the patients and their families.”

The village also tested over 400 farm labourers, provided them groceries and created accommodation on the farms so that they could continue with their work, Pawar said. “We ensured that people returning from bigger places like Pune and Mumbai were quarantined. Nobody was allowed to enter the village without being tested. Because of this, we found three positive patients before they could enter the village,” he said.

Pawar, however, said the village’s achievement could not have been possible without a collective effort and the support of the local youth.

Speaking about Modi’s mention of Ahmednagar district’s Covid mitigation effort, Bhosale said, “We felt good as the PM praised our initiatives in combating the pandemic. Such praise means a lot in boosting the confidence of the district machinery in carrying on with our efforts in dealing with the pandemic.”

Bhosale said that unlike the first wave when the district had about 75,000 Covid cases, the second wave saw a whopping 1.54 lakh cases in just 45 days or so. “Compounding the problem were issues like non-availability of medical oxygen and Remdesivir. However, the case fatality rate was 0.9% during the second wave as against 1.5% in the first. In absolute numbers, the district had over 250 more deaths than in the first wave,” he said.

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