In India, strict public health measures to suppress COVID-19 transmission and reduce burden have been rapidly adopted. Pandemic containment and confinement measures impact societies and economies; their costs and benefits must be assessed holistically. This study provides an evolving portrait of the health, economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable populations in India. Our analysis focuses on 100 days early in the pandemic from 13 March to 20 June 2020. We developed a conceptual framework based on the human right to health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We analysed people's experiences recorded and shared via mobile phone on the voice platforms operated by the Gram Vaani COVID-19 response network, a service for rural and low-income populations now being deployed to support India's COVID-19 response. Quantitative and visual methods were used to summarize key features of the data and explore relationships between factors. In its first 100 days, the platform logged over 1.15 million phone calls, of which 793 350 (69%) were outbound calls related largely to health promotion in the context of COVID-19. Analysis of 6636 audio recordings by network users revealed struggles to secure the basic necessities of survival, including food (48%), cash (17%), transportation (10%) and employment or livelihoods (8%). Themes were mapped to shortfalls in 10 SDGs and their associated targets. Pre-existing development deficits and weak social safety nets are driving vulnerability during the COVID-19 crisis. For an effective pandemic response and recovery, these must be addressed through inclusive policy design and institutional reforms.
Keywords: COVID-19; mHealth; right to health; social determinants of health; social justice.
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