Several citizen groups are also helping with ambulances.(AP)
Several citizen groups are also helping with ambulances.(AP)

Food, medicines, hospital beds: Residents step up in face of crisis

  • The second wave of the pandemic across the country — and the fourth in Delhi — has turned out to be the deadliest one yet.
By Sadia Akhtar, Fareeha Iftikhar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2021 08:03 AM IST

In the midst of an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases across the city, as social media platforms emerge as national helplines, several citizens and small-scale collectives have taken up the mantle of helping fellow residents in distress and responding to SOS messages sent by them seeking hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, plasma, and medicines.

The second wave of the pandemic across the country — and the fourth in Delhi — has turned out to be the deadliest one yet.

For the past 10 days, Jamia Nagar resident Shariq Hussain’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Desperate calls for help from affected families have kept the 29-year-old social activist on his toes. Hussain has been providing free oxygen cylinders to Covid-19 patients ever since cases in the city spiralled out of control.

“On a daily basis, 500-700 people are getting oxygen refilled from my house. People from Noida, Ghaziabad, Meerut, and Bulandshahr have been visiting us for oxygen. I am trying to help as many people as we can,” said Hussain.

The service is provided without any cost and the expenses for procuring oxygen are being borne by Hussain alone. “Even as we speak, hundreds of people are standing outside my house. Besides calls from individuals, I also get calls from Delhi Police who divert requests to us,” said Hussain, who lives in Jamia Nagar’s Batla House.

The one-man army has hardly slept in the past week and continues to help people while observing fasts during the month of Ramzan. “We are trying to help as many as we can. At times, people die before they can reach us. Dealing with such instances is painful,” he said.

Shubham Chawla, a 26-year-old, along with his mother Veenu Chawla and brother Anuj started Mom’s Kitchen — an initiative that provides free meals to Covid patients. The marketing professional’s extended family members are undergoing treatment for Covid and had a tough time securing beds in the city. Dismayed by the perilous situation in hospitals, he decided to divert his energy towards helping those who were in need.

“My brother-in-law and grandmother are ill due to Covid. Their condition is quite serious and we were unable to find beds for a long time. We were helpless. After many efforts, we were able to find beds and got them admitted. During the hospital visit, I saw the situation on the ground and the true extent of the crisis hit me. I realised that I was not contributing in any way and felt the need to do something constructive. My mother loves cooking, so I thought we could start by delivering 15-20 free meals in nearby areas to help people,” said Chawla, a resident of Pitampura.

Starting with five orders on the first day, the numbers increased to 50, then 100 and currently touch anywhere around 200-250. From people in dire stress to influential families, Chawla has been receiving calls from all across the city.

“People often cry on the phone. Some of them even offer money but we refuse any monetary help,” said Chawla. The mother-son duo is also getting help from friends and relatives who assist in handling the growing reach of the food service. They leave food outside houses as a precautionary measure.

Yogita Bhayana, a child rights activist, works round the clock with her team of seven to respond to SOS messages they receive on Twitter.

“Our volunteers personally go to hospitals to check the availability of beds and wherever they get a lead they inform the patients. There are so many requests and we are not being able to help everyone. I have also started collecting empty oxygen cylinders from families who lost their loved ones and distributing them among those who want them. We are also helping them refill cylinders,” she said.

Several citizen groups are also helping with ambulances.

Himanshu Kalia and his cancer-survivor wife who runs Shaheed Bhagat Singh Help And Care in north Delhi’s Pratap Nagar have been providing free ambulance services in the National Capital Region.

“For the past three or four days, we have been receiving nearly 200 phone calls a day. The frequency of calls we are receiving even at night has increased,” said Himanshu.

Despite having 16 ambulances in their fleet, the Kalia couple is able to help move only 20-30 patients to hospitals every day.

India Care, a collective that was initiated last year to help people in need amid the pandemic and helped migrant workers extensively, is now working on connecting plasma donors with those in need.

Sabita Chandna, a Delhi-based life coach and volunteer at the collective, said they have been inundated with calls and SOS messages in the last week.

“Our IT people pick requests we are tagged in on Twitter and put them on our groups of Telegram and WhatsApp. From there, our volunteers pick these requests and work on them. We have also started online registration for plasma donors requesting people to come forward and donate plasma. My inbox is full at present,” she said.

One among the multiple networks that have taken shape to aggregate information from social media in the past two weeks is the Covid Citizen Action group — a volunteer initiative that was started by concerned citizens to crowdsource information on the availability of beds, medicines, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, plasma donors, among others. The network is using social media to verify crucial information and provide verified leads and credible information – pertaining to bed availability, oxygen, and medicines – to those in distress and follow up on critical cases.

(With inputs from Shiv Sunny)

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