The COWIN app launched by the central government for the COVID vaccination drive is inaccessible to the rural population of Karnataka due to a lack of smartphones and internet connectivity
The rural health workers in Karnataka are struggling to register themselves for the COVID vaccination drive. To register for the vaccination, one has to download the COWIN app.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimates, 60 percent of people in rural Karnataka do not have access to smartphones and hence cannot register themselves for the vaccination.
The COWIN app is a mandatory tool that the central government introduced for vaccine registration. Currently, only health workers can access the app.
Maya K, a rural health care worker, at the H.K Hospital, Kengeri, is eligible for the vaccination in the first round. She has been waiting to get vaccinated. “I want to get the COVID 19 vaccine but I do not have a smartphone, so I cannot get the COWIN app,” she said. She added that she is diabetic, which is why she wants to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
While Maya hopes that the government will come up with another solution, Dr. A.H Lokesh, H.K. Hospital, Kengeri, said that the app is just a show-off. “All of this is just for media shows. Apps can work in western countries and not in a country like India, where a lot of people live in villages.” He added that this can prove to be detrimental as an incomplete vaccination drive is more dangerous.
A study done by SOCHARA, a community health center in Pondicherry shows the use of the COWIN app is a challenge for rural areas. Abu Huraira Sheikh, project manager at SOCHARA, said, “The implementation of technology has been a challenge, the reason is that when you have a software that isn’t user friendly and has been thrust down your throat, then it becomes more of a burden than making your job easier .“
“We have given smartphones and tablets to all PHCs to make it easier for rural health workers,” said Dr. Rajani Nageshrao, Head of the department of Immunisation, National Health, and Family Welfare. According to Dr. Rajani, everyone can access the app at the PHC level where vaccination is happening, and there are no issues related to the lack of phones. The Kengeri Government Hospital said that they have not received any smartphone or tablet from the National Health and Family Welfare Department.
Pallavi Bedi, Policy Officer, Centre for Internet and Society said, “India shouldn’t have an app for this, it can try for the Interactive Voice Response route, wherein people can call and get themselves registered.”
She says, India should have a mix of both, the app and physical registrations to ensure the vaccination drive is inclusive. She referred to the old immunization campaigns, namely the polio drive as an example. “Go physically, get people’s details as you did for polio and other vaccination and then maybe have an app for people who do have access to the app,” she said.
In a recent update from the central government, people will be able to do one site registrations for the vaccine from 1st March 2021.