Blog

COVID-19 response services

Update Jun 1, 2020 — Our campaign titled #NotStatusQuo is well underway. The spread of the pandemic, and ensuing hardships because of the lockdown, revealed many gaps in the delivery of public services and social security schemes that hindered access to various relief measures announced by the central and state governments. These gaps in the delivery of rights and entitlements had always existed though, and only manifested themselves during the lockdown. Indeed, many ad hoc systems have been put in place to improve access to the relief measures and the #NotStatusQuo campaign is aimed at drawing attention to systemizing these temporary systems to improve the infrastructure for social security and welfare delivery in India. Our campaign specifically draws attention to solving several issues with the public distribution system, direct benefit transfers, banking channels, documentation of workers especially for social security, access to public schemes and services by inter-state migrant workers, and governance decentralization. Participate on Twitter or Facebook, or directly look at our suggestions on these links and comment. You can also email us directly at covid-response@gramvaani.org too.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update May 29, 2020 — Results from our twinned surveys of 383 migrant workers and 657 resident workers, are now available. The findings present a clear picture of worker invisibility in social security schemes, that led to much hardship for both migrant and resident workers, across all sectors of work. Very few are considering coming back to the cities for work any time soon, and it remains an open question of how the surplus labour in rural areas will find sufficient work. An article based on the surveys has been published here.

Migrant workers survey done in 3 phases, during lockdown #2, #3, #4:

  • Migrant workers are engaged mostly in factory work, or as daily wage labourers in construction or agricultural work. Overall, only 20% reported being registered under any welfare boards, PF, or ESI like social security schemes. Clearly most migrant workers are invisible.
  • As a result of this invisibility, between 60-70% workers have reported not having received any cash transfer support from the state or central governments. With 85% reporting not having had any income at all through the lockdown, about 30% had to borrow money from others and 8% had to sell their assets for cash.
  • 62% of those in wage work did not get any help from their employers either.
  • Stranded without food or cash, around 50% have wanted or tried going back home. Even with the Shramik Special trains, 80% have either walked back, cycled, or hitched rides on trucks, under precarious conditions.
  • Of those who reached their native places safely, only about 28% have stayed in the quarantine centres, the rest have self-quarantined at home. 63% of those staying in the quarantine centres report that these centres were unclean or irregular on food timings.
  • A significant fraction report having faced some kind of discrimination, both at their place of work and upon coming back home. More than 55% of returned migrants plan to engage in agriculture related work, and only 10% show any inclination of going back to the cities for work any time soon. With factories having resumed at diminished capacity and only employing permanent workers, work is likely to be scarce in the cities. It remains a question if at home, agriculture or MNREGA or other works can absorb this surplus labour.

Resident workers survey done in 3 phases, during lockdown #2, #3, #4:

  • Resident workers are engaged mostly as daily wage labourers in construction or agricultural work. Overall, only 15% reported being registered under any welfare boards, PF, or ESI like social security schemes. Clearly most resident workers are invisible, including many street vendors and daily wage workers.
  • As a result of this invisibility, 66% workers reported not having received any cash transfer support from the state or central governments. With close to 85% reporting not having had any income at all throughout the lockdown, about 32% had to borrow money from others and 15% had to sell their assets to get cash.
  • Of those in wage work, 60% did not get any help from their employers or contractors either.
  • 66% have still not been able to resume their work, and this is true for people in all categories of work including self-employment, daily wage labour, factory work, street vendors, etc.
  • Most of them hope to start work again in farming or agricultural labour, or MNREGA like non-agricultural work. Only 8.7% show any inclination of going to cities for work.
  • 32% reported that MGNREGA work has still not started in their areas despite governments announcing that returned migrant labourers will be provided work promptly. Whether the rural economy will be able to absorb surplus labour because of many returned migrant workers is an important open question. Around 42% believe that agriculture related work will not be sufficient enough to absorb the surplus labour force, and 50% believe that wages will get suppressed as well.
  • While the most significant concern on people’s mind is related to employment, they are also concerned about household level stress and tension, and the lack of space in the house, with more people at home now.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update May 23, 2020 — A newsletter summarizing our COVID-19 related efforts and learning so far.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update May 14, 2020 — An article we wrote – Technologies of Disempowerment – about how many technology systems for welfare delivery and social security have ended up disempowering many people, while aiming to solve problems for them. It highlights several recurring mistakes in the design of these systems.

We have also actively participated in several campaigns for more state responsiveness, including with the National Campaign for Migrant Workers for safe travel of stranded migrants, with SWAN for a review and standardization of procedures for travel of migrant workers, and several letters we have written ourselves drawing the attention of district commissioners and secretaries on problems being faced by the communities.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: May 3, 2020 — Our article on gaps in providing relief services has been published in Scroll.

A dashboard is also live giving a status of our calls and geographies from where users are calling and reporting problems. We are eager to have new partners join the network to use our technology in their own respective communities. We have prepared short tutorial videos and decks to explain our processes:

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: Apr 29, 2020 — A summary deck about our Covid related work so far. 250 impact stories since March 24th, 350K+ calls, 7K+ user stories, 2 surveys concluded to understand ground realities, 2 more surveys underway, several articles and reports written, 150+ content capsules created by our team and translated into multiple languages.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: Apr 26, 2020 — An article we wrote about the need for the state and society to be more emphatic to learn and fix systems: Using the context of the coronavirus related lockdown, we suggest that empathy is crucial for the state to design policies and systems that work for the poor, and for the members of society to understand one another. Building an empathetic state and society requires a communication infrastructure that supports feedback processes and ensures fair representation of diverse viewpoints. The crisis during the lockdown ushered the provisioning of such an infrastructure in a temporary and rudimentary form, and which we argue must now be strengthened and institutionalized going forward. Our discussion relies on reports and testimonies of hundreds of users of the Mobile Vaani platform, a voice-based participatory media service running in several districts in rural North India and urban industrial locations.

The article has also been published on The India Forum.

Our surveys were also carried in the media: Telegraph, India Spend, News 18, 101 Reporters, First Post.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: Apr 18, 2020 Results are now available from our lockdown survey (700+ respondents) among workers in the industrial areas of Haryana, Tirupur, Ahmedabad, and Delhi. Some key highlights:

  • Almost 53% workers report having been laid-off during the lockdown, the highest being in Haryana
  • Of the ones laid-off, 57% report not having been paid their full wages, the highest again being in Haryana, and Ahmedabad
  • Overall, more than 60% of the workers report an urgent need for assistance, mostly of food. The worst is in Tirupur where many migrants from Bihar and Orissa are stranded, without money or ration. 50% of the people are desperate to go back home, and the situation hasn’t really changed much over the last three weeks of the lockdown
  • The government has relaxed the rules for workers to withdraw funds from their PF accounts, but more than 50% of the workers do not have PF accounts, and of them 60% haven’t been paid their full wages either

Update: Apr 15, 2020Results from our community survey (1700+ respondents) are now available, about access to the lockdown related relief measures in rural Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. Some key highlights:

  • Over 60% of the respondents have not received the free ration to which they were entitled. Anganwadi linked distribution is doing marginally better.
  • At least 1 in 2 respondents have not received the financial assistance promised to them.
  • The majority of respondents reported positively that police and local officials were not stopping them from availing essential services. 25% however did report high-handed behavior by the police.
  • Over 50% of the respondents reported that they can manage household expenses for just a week if the lockdown were to be extended; 1 in 4 had no idea how long they would be able to manage.

Update: Apr 10, 2020 — Based on the voice-reports on our platforms, our article in the India Forum is now online. An article from a pre-lockdown survey we conducted in partnership with 101 Reporters was also published some two weeks back, see here for the survey results. A few during-lockdown surveys are also in progress and we will publish the results here soon.

A short deck summarizing our services is here, and a longer note here.

The FAQs and other advisory content we created in Hindi, is now also available in Tamil, Marathi, and Oriya for open use.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: Apr 3, 2020 — We have started state-wise COVID-19 dedicated IVRs in four states now. These are missed-call based IVRs. Users can listen to pre-recorded FAQs and other content that we are producing on a regular basis, take a self-assessment survey to check if they may have at-risk symptoms and would like to consult a health worker, and report any issue they might be facing such as problems with food, cash, medical emergencies, etc. A wide network of partners have come together to provide these response services, including the Healing Fields Foundation, Piramal Foundation, and Tika Vaani in North India, and READ, REACH, TRLM, and Vizhuthugal in Tamil Nadu.

  • Bihar: 9211153222
  • Jharkhand: 9266609111
  • Uttar Pradesh: 9266672555
  • Tamil Nadu: 9266618777

Along with this, we are also actively running the content on our Mobile Vaani clubs, where our volunteers have completely floored the pedal to bring impact by responding to lockdown and other problems that the communities are facing. From providing help with securing food, cash, utilities, and escalating the need to strengthen government guidelines, our volunteers and community teams show that media is not just about providing information but also about translating that into action. Continue reading below to also understand the ground realities and other efforts we are undertaking to encourage communities to be more positive in their outlook about the virus and about community and family life in general.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 31st, 2020 — While we await a formal government go-ahead from various states to work together on community awareness for COVID-19, provide FLW advisory, and counseling services, the ground reality is starting to look very different because of the lockdown. Health issues seem to be least on the minds of people. Listen to these voices from across the country coming on our various community media platforms to understand what’s happening, from an unfiltered and untouched perspective, and the assistance being provided by our teams and volunteers. We hope the situation stabilizes soon and public attention comes back to health, and to seek advice, follow advisories, and be compassionate to one another. Each of these links is to an audio file.

In rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, and MP, while there is a lot of action by local authorities to distribute food, and many social workers and local NGOs have come to the rescue as well, but there is a lack of coordination that can be facilitated by the government such as to demarcate areas or direct people to go to the right places for help. Mobile Vaani volunteers have stepped up to raise these issues to the government and are helping connect people facing food shortages with social workers and Gram Panchayat authorities. Even temple pujaris are out of food and citizen groups have had to act against black marketing and rising prices which have gone up manifold. Our volunteers have also continued the hard work to hold PDS shopkeepers to account.

Several MLAs have offered their houses to serve as isolation wards while schools and panchayat bhawans are also being provisioned to serve as quanrantine units for returning migrants, but food and cleanliness problems persist. These people have walked back hungry because shops along the way are closed, hitched rides on trucks, or whatever means they could find to come back to the safety of their families, but the localites are stressed that those not following quarantine rules will cause the infection to spread and are acting as vigilantes. Clearly all this can spiral easily into communal social unrest and the government should issue more emphatic communication urgently via the Gram Panchayats. Unfortunately however there are also reports of irrational violent police action which doesn’t help alleviate tensions of people.

Reports say that markets are still on in many places and leading to large crowds but thankfully many shops even in rural areas have started social distancing practices by drawing circles on the ground for people to stand. It is a tough situation though. Shortages of gas cylinders is leading to large lines and pushing and shoving. All this calls for greater coordination by distribution agencies, as also seen at bank branches where large crowds assembled to withdraw cash and waited for several hours, but the bank later said that they didn’t have cash to disburse. This could have been conveyed earlier by them.

A similar lack of appropriate communication and coordination is much needed for health facilities. OPDs are closed in most public health centers and cases are coming up of a husband running around with a bleeding pregnant wife or people with injuries not getting medical attention. Physically disabled people are also facing similar issues in their day to day life. Community health workers are working hard to spread awareness but they are out of personal protection wear and in fact are facing stigma by their own village people for having higher chances of infection. Appeals have also been issued by PDS shopkeepers to be provided with masks and gloves, they are even ready to purchase them out of personal funds but nothing is available in the market.

In such an environment, people are anxious about their health and even approach doctors whom they trust, but based on user feedback we have decided to suspend the self-assessment IVR survey we had put up since it was creating greater anxiety among the people. We plan to open it up after some time when things are more stable. We are continuing to run the survey on the state-wide COVID-19 IVRs that are being promoted by our partner field teams who are trained on public health, and we are watching out for more feedback.

Work was continuing at a railway line despite the lockdown and our volunteers helped alert the authorities about it, but on the other hand farmers are upset because workers are not available for harvesting and clear guidelines are not being issued by the government. Feed availability for livestock is also becoming an issue and our volunteers helped escalate this issue for resolution in a few places. Due to a lack of work, people are facing hardship with availability of food and money. There are cries for help from the rural poor who live hand to mouth on a day to day basis. And also cries for help from their relatives stuck in far away cities in Karnataka or Jalandhar or Kerala or Mumbai or Gurgaon or Manesar or Haryana or Tirupur or Ahmedabad where the local state governments are trying to provide food but it is irregular and of poor quality, their landlords are pushing for eviction and employers or contractors are not paying wages, and people are afraid to step out because of the police, and helplines are not working. The living conditions of workers in cities were terrible to begin with, and now it is only worse. A mother from Madhubani who came to Delhi for treatment of her 15 year old daughter is now stuck here. They just want to go back to their families and loved ones but the lack of consistent communication by different state governments is causing a lot of confusion and stress. They want clarity on relief measures and how they will operate, they want action from the government and not just promises. The need is urgent and people are helpless, they have no way other than to walk back home. Even those who are settled in cities have run out food and fuel for cooking. Our teams are trying to connect such people with organizations that can help, with food or cash, but the need is very large.

On the other hand, people are also facing issues with accessing the relief benefits announced by the different governments. Many farmers have not received any DBT transfers for PM-KISAN as yet, clearly due to Aadhaar linkage issues. Gas cylinders have not been delivered because of the lockdown. There is no news on the advance ration promised.

Listen to more stories here, running upwards of 3000 now on COVID-19 related issues, and also stories of impact by our volunteers. A shorter pruned list of stories, reasonably up to date, is also maintained here. And write to us at covid-response@gramvaani.org if you are working on the ground in Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, UP, Delhi NCR, Tamil Nadu, or Karnataka in any of the areas listed in the annexure of the note here.

All people are the same. All of us want dignity, stability, love, peace… yet all people are also different, coming from different contexts, different needs, different circumstances… the government and all of us need to be more communicative, more open to understanding one another, more compassionate, and only then do we stand chance as a society to live together and allow everybody to prosper. In our view, some things the state governments should do:

  • Clarify that regular OPD functioning at the PHCs should restart
  • Set up a helpline for PDS dealers and other shopkeepers to alert on supply shortages, and take immediate action to identify transportation or other bottlenecks that might be hampering the supply of food
  • Run emphatic loud-speaker announcements via the Gram Panchayats urging people to be compassionate towards migrant workers returning home, to help ensure that their symptomatic testing is not unduly stressful, that their isolation wards are clean and food is provided to them, and that this should be a duty of the entire community and not just the state. Similarly, also communicate about the tough job that is done by the health workers, and to support them in such a difficult situation
  • Issue guidelines on how to avail relief measures announced by various governments, but also provide easy routes for people who don’t have ration cards, or don’t have pension accounts linked with Aadhaar, or active Jan Dhan accounts. A simple cash disbursement process should be developed for them, or vouchers should be given for the purchase of essential commodities
  • Ensure that community health workers are looked after, that they have adequate protective gear, and that training and treatment protocols are clearly communicated to them
  • Workers who are continuing to stay in cities because of the lockdown, despite having no work any more, should be given a regular supply of cash or food without fail
  • All service providers should be issued advisory on how to coordinate their distribution activities like by issuing tokens, and issue clear communication to the people, so that there is no unnecessary crowd buildup and stress on the people, and the police are not forced to intervene in a harsh manner to control the crowd

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 31st, 2020 — While we await a formal government go-ahead from various states to work together on community awareness for COVID-19, provide FLW advisory, and counseling services, the ground reality is starting to look very different because of the lockdown. Health issues seem to be least on the minds of people. Listen to these voices from across the country coming on our various community media platforms to understand what’s happening, from an unfiltered and untouched perspective, and the assistance being provided by our teams and volunteers to respond to cries of help. We hope the situation stabilizes soon and public attention comes back to health, and to seek advice, follow advisories, and be compassionate to one another. Each of these links is to an audio files.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 27th, 2020 — As the situation on the ground rapidly changes, we are trying to be as agile as we can. Our platforms in Delhi NCR and Tamil Nadu (Erode, Tirupur) have quickly reacted to help migrant workers who are now stuck in the cities and running out of cash. We are connecting them with local partners for help. Similarly, in rural areas where returning workers face stigma and anxiety, and other problems surface such as black marketing and price inflation, our volunteers and field teams are on high alert to seek action from public authorities. Keep a tab on this sheet to hear voices from the ground.

With the government’s announcement of relief packages, we also expect many implementation level problems to arise, including for people who have had issues in linkage of their pension accounts with Aadhaar, issues with not having clarity on which of their bank accounts are linked with Aadhaar for DBT, what is their Jan Dhan account and the fact that they even have one, processes for enrollment as informal workers to avail the benefits, etc. All these are actually long pending issues that unfortunately haven’t been resolved as yet in the misguided belief of technology utopia. Our volunteer teams have been supporting their communities to resolve such issues, and we are bracing ourselves to continue providing the support in the best way we can as we foresee problems mounting up because of the lockdown. Even other problems such as stockouts at grocery stores and PDS shops, people running out of cash, lack of transportation in case of emergencies… all will come up and communities will need support. The lockdown should have been better planned, there was enough time, the whole situation is very disappointing.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 25th, 2020 — The Hindi audio content we have developed can be accessed here, based on a FAQ collated by us from various GoI/WHO sources (some open questions remain for which we will be happy to get inputs). If you can translate this content into other languages then do let us know.

We will next prepare content to counter significant fear in the communities, and the stigma that is getting attached to migrants who are returning from work and with anybody sick in the neighbourhood.

We also want to prepare FAQs and advisory for FLWs — it is blank right now and we will appreciate help to put it together, a few resources are here.

Further, keep a tab on this sheet where we are constantly adding more content on news and localized announcements for districts where we are working, to prevent misinformation, and also collating voices from the community. Bear with us as we get more organized on this. Write to us at covid-response@gramvaani.org if you want to use any of this material to write blogs or articles for the mainstream media, about ground realities in rural areas.

Our services as outlined below are now live, we are expanding district by district to learn as we go along and course correct, to avoid any harm or confusion.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 23rd, 2020 — We have set up a district-wise response network in partnership with several organizations. Read note here. Our goal is to provide authentic information and advisory to rural and low-income communities, and to strengthen the capacity of the health system to refer, track, and counsel more probable cases of COVID-19. Three services are being launched:

  • Access to FAQs, news, entertaining and engaging content, quizzes, etc for communities to deal with COVID-19
  • Self-assessment survey especially on behalf of the elderly and very young children, to provide crisp actionable feedback
  • Referral service to guide people to the right facilities, track their progress over time, and counsel them on appropriate action

So far we have organizations like Healing Fields Foundation, iKure, CRY, Digital Green, and the Piramal Foundation to provide referral advice and tracking support in several districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Orissa, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. We are looking to add more partners, please write to covid-response@gramvaani.org if you have a connect with FLWs. Additionally, we will run information and advisory on all of the Mobile Vaani platforms (across 20+ districts in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Delhi NCR, and Tamil Nadu), as well as several partner-led platforms including with Digital Green, Enable India, and CREA, and link the various services from these platforms as well.

For prospective partners, if you need to learn more about the services and the process, see the tutorial slides here. In case you can assist with moderation of the voice-recordings, also see the quick-moderation guide here.

Some more details are below.

——————————————————————————————————————

Update: March 21st, 2020 — At Gram Vaani, our priorities have suddenly shifted to combating the global Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Along with ensuring the safety of our staff and volunteer teams, we are striving to leverage our technology platforms and capabilities to support rural and low-income communities in this crucial time. Public health researchers from the University of Montreal and computer science students and faculty from IIT Delhi are working alongside us in this effort. Download a concept note here, and read below for the latest updates.

Awareness building: The right information delivered through the right platforms will inform and empower communities to stay safe and healthy during the crisis. This includes those in hard-to-reach segments (low literacy, rural and without Internet) and those who are at greater risk of suffering from the disease’s double burden of ill health and poverty, particularly women in their roles as family caregivers and frontline workers such as CHWs, ASHAs and AWWs. Our team is developing suitably contextualized audio content using authentic sources from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India and the World Health Organization. This content can be used by all of our partners, and we will also be playing it on our wide networks in rural Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and low-income communities in Delhi NCR. This includes:

  • Summary advice on symptoms, prevention measures, care, and other useful information including links to the Government of India helpline phone numbers.
  • Tutorials to help health workers in healthcare facilities keep abreast with new training protocols or guidelines for infection prevention and control or contact tracing.

We have prepared this FAQ from various resources. Following are some additional important open questions about contextualizing the advisories for rural and low-income populations. Please do take a look in case you have any clarity, or share with others who can experiment and propose appropriate solutions.

Countering misinformation: Authentic information about the COVID-19 status in the country and the world, including the government strategy, is going to be imperative to counter any misinformation that could surface on other media platforms especially if the going gets tough.

Community feedback: Our mission always has been to reverse the flow of information, and make it bottom-up instead of top-down. We are keeping alert to listening to problems that our users are facing, not just on health but also on the economic front, and we are channeling these to the regional and national media outlets.

This is being combined with a few technological solutions we are readying as an emergency preparedness step.

Outbound messaging system for frontline staff: With frontline cadre distributed across vast geographies and with dynamically evolving disease prevention and control procedures, it is essential to keep them updated on the latest protocols to follow. The automated system can send correct information to the functionaries in a real-time manner.

Case-reporting system for frontline staff: The system enables frontline staff to report information about probable cases, their age, gender, number of family members, travel history, etc. This information can be collated and sent to state case-tracking systems. When coupled with data about verified cases, this can become an important indicator to predict future outbreak clusters. This will also help expand the capacity of the state helplines, many of which are run manually right now. We are also in conversation with the District Health Information System (DHIS2) team from the University of Oslo to potentially integrate our case-reporting system to their dashboard and case-tracking system.

This is a draft IVR structure for an integrated case-reporting and FAQ system.

Smartform based collection of phone numbers from community members to get prepared for mass messaging: Frontline staff are not adept at using digital systems to provide information, and mass-training on how to use these tools is not feasible in the current circumstances either. We have therefore developed specially formatted paper forms which can be digitized rapidly through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tools. We are rapidly working to improve its accuracy. Phone numbers thus collected can be linked to specific locations and with care-of health workers and other frontline staff, so that response in case of follow-ups can be quick as well.

Query resolution and self-assessment system: We are building an automated voice-based question-answering system wherein people can call to seek information and ask questions, in as seamless a way as possible. The system will provide automated responses to the queries, or if their queries are not resolved then we will try to connect them with a network of informed volunteers who can match callers with pre-recorded and standardized audio capsules. A self-assessment system can also be setup to guide people on next steps of whether they might be in need for testing and should contact the government helplines or testing centers.  We will try to also enable this in a text-format on the Facebook messenger and Whatsapp channels.

This is a draft IVR structure to host FAQs and a self-assessment survey.

Outbound messaging to community members will provide correct awareness messaging in a localized manner. In view of social distancing advisory by governments to combat the disease, entertaining ways of awareness building like quizzes can help alleviate anxiety and panic related to the disease. Self-evaluation of the disease at the community level can also be designed based on technically approved guidelines.

Gram Vaani’s Community media platform, Mobile Vaani, with its wide network helps reach out to underserved populations (rural, low literate) and provides an option to not only access information but also contribute towards reporting the ground situation. This community reporting will be instrumental to inform the world about health and economic challenges that the community is facing. We especially request our partners to contact us for any further assistance that we can provide.

Should you wish to reach out to us for any information or access to the voice content for using on your platforms, please contact us at covid-response@gramvaani.org or Twitter or Facebook.

We will keep updating this page with information about the audio content and other resources that we will put out.