Dhanshree Bhalerao, a 21-year-old journalism student, could have listened to her family and stayed at home, safe and relaxed but chose not to do so. Braving the brutal COVID-19 second wave, she began volunteering at a Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Loni Kalbhor, a few kilometres from Pune in Maharashtra and helped people register online for vaccinations. Going against her family's wishes wasn't easy but she had her mother's support in the fight.
"Before joining Save the Children as a volunteer, I was confused and worried about joining. My family was asking me to think this through. Then I thought of the nurses and doctors who are working since last year, giving services to people. If they also thought like me then who would have brought the situation under control? Who would have treated so many patients?" said Dhanshree.
If the sight of thousands of migrant workers trudging back home was uncomfortable to watch during the first year of the pandemic, then the desperate cries for oxygen concentrators and bodies piling up at hospitals during the second wave was horrifying. The second wave did not spare even the young with reports of children being hospitalised after testing COVID-19 positive. The healthcare system was overburdened and the doctors, healthcare workers and caregivers were stretched beyond their limits. In a situation like this, the decision to step out of the house and volunteer at a PHC was nothing short of brave.
"I started working at the Loni Kalbhor Primary Health Center on 28 April 2021. The first two days I spent understanding the PHC set up, getting to know the staff, and their way of functioning. From May 1, vaccination for people between 18 and 44 years started. We, a team of Medical Officer, nursing staff and myself, worked in coordination and got people registered online. Till 2 pm, I would manage the registration counter and after that I would be busy doing data entry work of various records related to the vaccination process, maintaining records of follow-up calls done for COVID patients who are admitted in hospitals and who are in home isolation," said Dhanshree.
When vaccinations started around December-January, many stayed away out of fear and misconceptions. But with more awareness and information on the vaccines, people started coming into the PHC. Dhanshree said, "On an average, our team administers 300 vaccines per day. There was also a time when the number reached up to 800."
While working at the PHC, Dhanshree got vaccinated. "I take care of myself while working at the PHC. I take precautions like using double masks, sanitizers, frequent hand washing and bathing after going home. All the staff at the PHC, including medical officers Dr Jadhav and Dr Rupali, are very supportive. If we don't understand things, they do consider our non-medical background and explain everything to us."
The vaccination drive came with a distinct set of problems. There was confusion and questions on the availability, eligibility, when and where to take the first dose and how to register online. Sometimes, vaccines were available but people were not reaching the centres and in other times, the PHCs were crowded with people but there were not enough vaccines.
Sharing more about her experience at the PHC, "After the announcement for vaccination, there was a huge rush at the PHC. Lack of space, huge crowd became a problem and it required good coordination among us to control the situation. We even had to shout at people for not following proper physical distancing. To avoid such crowding, we also started a coupon system."
Dhanshree also helped people above 60 registers online for the vaccine, keep them updated on their vaccination dates and the necessary documents required. "Working together was fun. I had planned to work only for a month but now I have decided to continue for another month," she said.