Voices Sheila Kumar Shinie Antony Rajat Chaudhuri Amar Bhushan Ravi Shankar Mata Amritanandamayi MAGAZINE Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI may 2 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 A Covid-19 patient being wheeled on a hospital stretcher Helping Handles Where the government machinery failed, India acted. Its youth harnessed the power of social media to enable their fellow countrymen to access critical healthcare and survive. By Ayesha Singh A rushi Chaddha’s father was dying. The oxygen supply of the hospital, like in hospitals across Delhi, was running on fumes. Most people knew, or knew of someone who had died. Her only hope was the kindness of strangers. On April 23, at 11.30 am, Chaddha posted on Instagram: ‘Lungs damaged. Oxygen level dropped to 70. Hospital is refusing to keep my father for more than a couple of hours due to the shortage of medical oxygen. My father will die.’ In a short while, her DM was inundated with messages offering leads. One such message was from Suhail Shetty, who took down Chaddha’s details and made several phone calls to his friends and relatives to get an oxygen concentrator. On April 25, at 2.20 am, he managed to arrange one. He drove at breakneck speed in the middle of the night to the hospital where Chaddha’s father was admitted. “When I shared my number with him on Instagram, I thought I had made a blunder. I worried about being stalked or harassed, but when I saw Shetty bhai at the hospital, I trembled with relief. I couldn’t believe he had done this for us,” Chaddha confesses. Her father came home recovered, thanks to people like Shetty “A perfect . stranger saved his life,” she marvels. Scenes like this are playing across the country where sobbing doctors and bone-tired nurses are trying to save lives, and hospital managements are desperately sending out SOS after SOS for the life-saving gas. When Twitter cowered before government anger and shut down handles that exposed the horror of medical services’ paucity and mass funerals, ordinary citizens from all walks of life used social media to rescue their fellow men gasping for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and rare medicines that had gone off the shelves overnight, in addition to arranging ambulances and plasma. Instagram, particularly has become the , unofficial disaster management agency of India. Facebook, WhatsApp and even Twitter now offer information that could and does save lives. Many Shettys have emerged in India’s battle with the second wave of the pandemic. Take the case of Mumbai’s Sachin Singhal. He was on the phone, desperately trying to arrange a plasma donor for his 61-year-old mother, who had developed pneumonia and was feeling excessively breathless. “The plasma Ordinary citizens from all walks of life came forward to rescue their fellow men gasping for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and rare medicines that had gone off the shelves overnight, in addition to arranging ambulances and plasma. bank turned us down due to shortage. I broadcast a message on WhatsApp, but wasn’t sure it would help. I received messages from three people within two hours offering assistance. Such is the power of humanity in these appalling times,” says Singhal. At the forefront of the Covid-19 fight is India’s youth—students, professionals and entrepreneurs. The girls of Miranda House, Delhi, have formed a 24/7 Covid-19 help desk operated by 300 students. They acquaint callers on testing, treatment, hospitalisation, oxygen support facilities, mental health, counselling and food services. Volunteers across the country have come together as governments and the bureaucracy drown in the sheer complexity of catching up too little, too late. The Instagram group Covid Aid Resources India comprises student-volunteers working round the clock to post and update accurate information. They also upload videos of protocol violations, and insist on verification. Three engineering graduates from IIT-Delhi have launched ‘CovRelief ’, a free mobile app that has live-tracking of vacant hospital beds across 15 cities in India. It shares data on oxygen and plasma availability On the Instagram page of . Nadora Initiative, hashtags such as #hospitalbedsindelhi and #hospitalbedsinpunjab circulate the status of available beds in private, public and volunteer healthcare centres. Phone numbers of centres with oxygen beds are available online. For example, Lakshmibai College in Ashok Vihar, Delhi, has #oxygenbedsleads to inform searchers. The phone numbers of verified oxygen providers in Delhi are posted on Instagram, including this one: 9999869483. Cov.id911 shows graphics of a date-wise list of functional Covid-19 Vaccine Centres. Thiruvananthapuram-resident Sweta Harimohanan, a BA student of Performing Arts in Carnatic music, heard about the appalling oxygen shortage in the country She began to call up . a number of private hospitals at random inquiry about the status of their oxygen supplies. One of them happened to be in Mumbai. “This hospital had non-ICU oxygen beds, which was big news since most of the others I had called had none. I posted this information on my Instagram page. Later that day I got to know that a , friend’s father, who was struggling to get a bed, saw my message and contacted the hospital.” This friend was her follower on Instagram. Harimohanan has also been posting SOS messages regarding the availability of emergency supplies on her social handles. The challenges this time are very different from last year. “Then, our work was straightforward. We were supplying food and medicines. Now it is oxygen and ICU beds. It’s a horrifying scenario,” says TMK Karthik, actor and volunteer in Chennai. K Yashini, an IT employee in Madurai, is working with a group of friends to regularly share information on hospitals treating Covid-19 patients so that people don’t panic for beds. On their own, Nupur and Rahul Agarwal contacted hospitals and doctors in Mumbai and found there was a shortage of 3,000 oxygen concentrators. Their ‘Mission Oxygen’ started with the aim of procuring 500 oxygen concentrators with public contributions but received enough for 865 in 48 hours. The number had gone up to 1,500 by April 26. Telephone numbers of the BMC department in Mumbai dealing with beds and ambulances are posted online by private individuals. Turn to page 2 THEY CARE K Sai Teja Kukatpally, Hyderabad He is known as Activist Sai on Twitter, and was particularly concerned about the spike in calls asking for cremation help between April 11-17. “We received about 40 calls which meant the situation had hit a new level of rock bottom,” he says, adding, “When we are not handling funeral rites, we provide free food for Covid-positive breadwinners who need help.” People’s Democracy Foundation: Mission Oxygen Delhi-NCR Moved by the unprecedented loss of human life, a bunch of start-up founders based in Delhi-NCR mobilised on April 23 under the banner People’s Democracy Foundation: Mission Oxygen. They got in touch with hospitals and doctors around the country and confirmed there was a requirement of more than 3,000 oxygen concentrators in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai alone. The volunteers pooled their resources to gather the first `50 lakh themselves, followed by the massive crowdfunding campaign called Mission Oxygen. By April 28, they had collected `10+ crore and managed to procure around 1,500 oxygen concentrators from China, Hong Kong and European countries to deliver to hospitals. Also, the humanitarian effort is starting an oxygen generation plant in Delhi’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, due to open on May 5. They are at present accepting donations from across the world.
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