Digital divide in vaccination

The second wave of Covid-19 has unleashed carnage in many states of India. As of the end of May 2021, India registered nearly 25.2 million cases and 2,83,248 deaths. Infections first grew in urban areas and then spread to rural areas. This pattern was mapped in both, the first as well as the second wave.

India’s rural areas cover 66.5 percent of the country’s population. However, nearly 60 percent of hospitals, 80 percent of doctors, and 75 percent of medical facilities are situated in urban areas. This shows the lack of medical infrastructure in the rural areas. The cause for concern is the fact that surge in registered cases and infections did not see a parallel rise of vaccination in these rural regions. This will result in rapid spread of this virus, and lesser number of inoculations to prevent the spread.

Many factors have contributed towards this divide between rural and urban areas when it comes to vaccination. One of the most important one being digital divide. Here are some statistics to show the wide disparity between the 2 regions in issues pertaining to digital knowledge.

When India has 450 million smartphone users as of 2019, only 25percent of it’s rural citizens had a device. Only 4 percent of Indians in rural areas has access to computers. Internet connections were not prevalent in all regions, in fact, only 34 percent of Indians have one.

Hence, it is understandable to assume that many people in rural areas do now know or cannot access the digital portal systems like Co-WIN and Aarogya Setu, which helps citizens of this country book vaccination slots and complete the entire procedure online. The inoculation drive is being pushed backwards.

This platform favors internet-savvy urban population with access to the advanced technology, further excluding less aware rural people with lack of digital know-how, out of the safety net. Such a digital divide has forced digitally illiterate people to either visit registration centers or book vaccinations on the app with the help of some facilitator or be left out of the vaccination process.

The requirements of this app are a phone or a laptop to open the particular website which is not available with all. Even if they do have a digital device, many people do not have data packages to browse and book the slots. Hence there are many obstacles for rural people in the inoculation procedure.

Further, the portal requires uploading the identification proof. For certain people-street vendors; dwellers of urban slums, and remotely inaccessible areas; people engaged in begging and the like-identification proof is hard to come by even during normal times, where they struggle to avail benefits from the social protection schemes introduced by the government.  Also, a few months back, the portal only published all the information in English language without taking into account the people who did not know this language,.

Also, for the informal work force, where every day’s wage is important for providing food and resources to their family on a daily basis, taking a day off is very difficult. The entire procedure of vaccination for people having all the resources may be considered pretty simple. But for the poor households, this is not possible. They cannot afford to forgo a day’s wage in such times, and perhaps even more if they are responsible for the vaccination of all the family members.

The Supreme Court states that India’s vaccine policy was against the rights of the poor and marginalized. They considered the policy as extremely disproportionate and not in terms with societal realities. Such problems should be addressed so that no more lives are lost at the cost of digital disparity.