Besides several helpful Facebook pages, students are operating nine helplines at the helpdesk of Miranda House, almost around the clock, to assist in whatever way they can
A man checks the oxygen level of a patient outside a gurdwara in New Delhi
At around 5 pm on April 26, a Facebook user from Noida posted an urgent appeal for help in securing a hospital bed or a trained nurse for her father whose oxygen levels were fluctuating. Within the hour, her post had generated sympathy, advice and several leads, including contact numbers of doctors at the Covid Care Centre at Commonwealth Games Village at Delhi’s Akshardham.
Helpful, verified leads came from the Facebook page “Covid Community Delhi/NCR – Information Facts Support” that was set up to crowdsource information about Covid at the beginning of the pandemic when few knew much about the virus.
If this FB page is helping with information and leads, a couple of Sikh groups under the umbrella of “Covid Fight Support Saanjh” (CFSS) are doing their bit to organise oxygen cylinders, beds and even food deliveries with volunteers here having turned their private numbers into helplines.
At the helpdesk of Delhi University’s Miranda House, meanwhile, students are operating nine different helplines almost round the clock to assist in whatever way they can.
The deadly second wave of Covid-19 has shaken up the healthcare system and has thousands of families frantically looking for hospital beds, oxygen, plasma. And some ordinary people and organisations are going above and beyond to help them.
“I’ve been fielding between 300 and 500 calls a day,” estimates BA third year student Vitti Joshi. “It’s a lot, especially with final exams round the corner. But this catastrophic second wave has shown us we have to help each other to survive.”
Many members on the Covid Community Delhi/NCR Facebook page — there are over 1,200 of them and some 30 new ones are being added daily — have started delivering food to Covid-positive families, says Meeta Mastani, co-founder of the page.
Others have responded to the crisis with more direct assistance. One of them is Kafeel Khan, the doctor who had red-flagged the oxygen scarcity in Indian hospitals in 2017 when he blew the whistle on the state-run BRD Medical College hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, where 70 children and 18 adults had died after the hospital’s piped oxygen supply allegedly ran out. With other civic-minded doctors working under the banner of “Doctors On Road”, he is going to villages to spread Covid-19 awareness and offer treatment and relief to patients.
“We’re giving free medicines to those in need and spreading critical messages about social distancing and Covid-appropriate behaviour wherever we go,” he says.
Back at Miranda House, Joshi says, “To operate our helplines, we have a team of over 20 students who are continuously calling hospitals, oxygen suppliers, ambulance services and more to ascertain what resources they have.” All the information is updated on a Google spreadsheet in which users can see the date and time of the last update.
The helpdesk initially began at the behest of the college principal to deal with problems that the college’s students, teachers and alumnae were facing. “Very quickly, people got to know about our work and we had to open it up to the general public.” Of the 300-500 calls they receive in a day, Joshi says they are able to address some 150.
On Mastani’s FB page, strangers support one another every day. “The other day, a friend pledged to cook ten meals a day to distribute,” she says. “Doctors have offered free tele-consults.” Others have been tirelessly verifying numbers of hospitals beds, oxygen suppliers, ambulances and more.
Some two weeks ago, “when my 91-year-old mother and I tested positive, I also found a nurse, doctor and lots of emotional support through the page”, Mastani says.
The work, however, is emotionally and physically draining. “I start receiving calls at 6 am and sometimes my phone continues to ring till past midnight,” Joshi says.
At CFSS, a member who estimates they’re getting over 1,400 distress calls a day, says, “On April 26, we managed to raise the money to buy 87 oxygen cylinders in black from Punjab. But our elation was short-lived as we realised how many more people there were who needed them urgently.”
Joshi says that the traumas she has witnessed in the last few days will haunt her for a long time, while Khan struggles to come to terms with the fact that the entire nation is experiencing the horror that he lived through in 2017 in Gorakhpur.
But they all agree that serving others is helping them cope. “We’re building connections, creating supportive networks,” says Mastani. “This is what being human is all about.”