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Raising a hospital: The Akole model

Prachi Raturi Misra | Updated on July 15, 2021

In step: The Sugaon story had a positive impact on Samsherpur village; a wedding hall was turned into a 110-bed Covid-19 hospital with 10 oxygen beds

When finding a hospital bed proved daunting during the devastating second wave of Covid-19, the villagers of the Maharashtra taluk got together to set up makeshift healthcare centres

* Nitin Godse, who heads a gas piping company in Mumbai, was shaken when he saw the impact of the second wave on the villages in his taluk — Akole

* I was amazed at the large heartedness of ordinary folks. Teachers, social workers, farmers — everyone pooled in some way or the other

* When chef-cum-social worker Sandip Darade heard about the hospital in Sugaon, he spread the word about it in his village and also on his school WhatsApp group

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After the initial shock, the numbness that follows a dear one’s passing rattled businessman Nitin Godse during the torrid second wave of Covid-19 that swept the country between April and May. “It was scary,” says Godse, managing director of Mumbai-based Excel Gas and Equipment, a gas piping company. So he took off to his native village Sugaon in Ahmednagar district in rural Maharashtra, the place he grew up in.

Quick move: When businessman Nitin Godse witnessed the growing number of Covid-19 cases in his village, he knew he had to act fast

 

Godse was hit by the virus in the first wave. But when he saw the impact of the second wave on the poor in the villages in his taluk (sub-district) — Akole, he was shaken.

“I had seen influential people in Mumbai and Delhi struggling to find beds in hospitals. Here we were looking at people who were like shadows. I knew they couldn’t think of finding hospital beds anywhere,” says Godse.

What do you do when someone can’t go the hospital? You simply get the hospital to them. At least, that is what Akole did. Villages such as Sugaon, Samsherpur, Kalas, Brahmanwada, Kotul, Paithan, Rajur, Shendi and Agasti Ashram opened Covid-19 centres in empty buildings — wedding halls, schools, colleges, et al.

So while the second wave made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the country, 192 villages in the remote taluk decided to fight back with their own Covid-19 centres and hospitals.

Early start

When Godse arrived in his village in the second week of April and saw the growing number of Covid-19 cases and also a few deaths, he knew he had to move fast.

He got in touch with a few friends in the village and an empty government building was identified. “Everyone decided to pool in whatever way they could, and also spread the word,” he shares.

In two weeks the villagers of Sugaon raised a whopping ₹30 lakhs.

Team effort: Sugaon had a full-fledged 65-bed hospital by April-end   -  IMAGES: SPECIAL ARRAGEMENT

 

“I was amazed at the large heartedness of ordinary folks. Teachers, social workers, farmers — everyone pooled in some way or the other. A retired farmer, for instance, broke his fixed deposit of ₹1 lakh to contribute money,” says Godse.

Before they knew they were arranging beds and oxygen supply.

By April 27, Sugaon had a full- fledged 65-bed oxygen hospital. Around 1,000 patients — all critical — were treated at the hospital, all but 30 of them were saved.

“The idea was simple. We didn’t want anyone to die because of lack of medical facilities,” he says.

Domino effect

The idea spread like wildfire across the taluk. Sugaon’s hospital beds were soon full, and that is when the other villages went about setting up their own centres.

Villagers got together, pooled resources and worked to start hospitals and care centres.

Sandip Darade, chef-turned-social worker, belongs to the nearby village of Samsherpur. He had left the village after his schooling and went on to do a course in hotel management. A chef, he worked first in Delhi, and then the US and France. After 10 years of in the big cities, he returned to his village and became engaged in social work. Two restaurants and farms kept the money coming in.

When Darade heard about the hospital in Sugaon, he spread the word about it in his village and also on his school WhatsApp group. The Sugaon story had a positive impact on Samsherpur village too. From eggs to fruits to medicines, people contributed in whatever way they could.

Soon a wedding hall was turned into a 110-bed Covid-19 hospital with 10 oxygen beds.

“Two of my batchmates were doctors, so they pitched in selflessly. So did many others. It was amazing to see the power of people,” says Darade.

“There was music, movies, singing. We never let anybody feel it was a life-threatening situation,” Darade talks about the atmosphere in the hospital. A total of 520 people were treated and no deaths were reported from the hospital in Samsherpur, says Darade.

And it wasn’t just the patients who went back happy; the ones who contributed were too.

Third generation fruit farmer Jaywant Thorat, for instance, rode 25 kms on his bike each day from his village Virgaon to deliver fruits — papaya, musk melons, pomegranates — to the Covid hospital in Samsherpur. “I haven’t been happier going to a hospital. I haven’t felt this kind of satisfaction in my life,” says Thorat. He delivered four quintals of fruit over 45 days at the hospital.

Navjeet Joshi, a teacher who pitched in financially, says the Covid-19 hospitals in the villages have shown them the power of community. “In our school WhatsApp group (which has 32 batchmates who studied together from anganwadi till 12), instead of silly jokes or sad news, we shared the progress being made with the hospital, and the work that needed to be done. Positivity can make all the difference,” says Joshi.

The third wave

The villagers of Akole taluk are making sure that the widely expected third wave of Covid-19 doesn’t catch them by surprise.

While some of the Covid-19 centres and hospitals are still open, about 150 villages have also opened isolation centres.

Godse, who went from village-to-village on foot with a group of volunteers, says, “The awareness has spread across villages. We hope the Akole model becomes an example for the country.”

Prachi Raturi Misra is a Delhi- based journalist and author

Published on July 15, 2021

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