Going the extra mile, citizens come together in time of pandemic
On June 9, South Extension resident Mohit Kumar (28) made frantic calls to arrange a bed when the condition of his 62-year-old father, who had tested positive for the coronavirus disease a few days earlier, had deteriorated.
He checked for the beds in the intensive care units (ICUs) of hospitals as listed on the state government’s “Delhi Corona” mobile application that gives the availability of beds in realtime, and called private hospitals to confirm a bed. However, that was in vain.
A friend told him to approach Charity Beds, a non-profit organisation.
“Once I told them about my father’s condition, I didn’t have to do anything. They helped me find an ICU bed,” said Kumar, whose father is now recuperating in a south Delhi hospital.
Kapil Chopra, founder of the The Postcard Hotel chain of hotels and chairman of the board of EasyDiner, started Charity Beds in 2011. At the time it helped the underprivileged get admission in private hospitals in the city reserved under the economically weaker section.
For the past two weeks, Chopra and his team at Charity Beds have been posting information about the availability of beds in various hospitals along with contact details almost on an hourly basis on Twitter and Facebook. They were also helping individuals like Kumar who reached out directly. .
“We decided to switch our focus to helping Covid-19 patients after there were several videos doing the rounds on social media about families struggling to get people admitted to hospitals,” said Chopra. “We realised that information was not being disseminated properly about the availability of beds in various hospitals. Due to this, people have to run from one hospital to another.”
Chopra says that they are able to get accurate information as his team had reliable contacts in all hospitals.
“Information dissemination is very important at this time of the crisis. We have been working with hospitals for over eight years. We know people in hospitals. We are able to get realtime information from them,” said Chopra, who recently posted information about how Charity Beds works after he got a few queries from other cities.
A Delhi government official said that the government has been working with such organisations and individuals during the Covid-19 crisis. “It is good that individuals and non-profit firms are doing their bit to help in this time of crisis. All these efforts really matter. For ration distribution and management of hunger centres etc, we have got support of several such individuals and organisations,” said the official.
Like Charity Beds, several organisations and individuals have come forward to help people in their time of need. Some help find a plasma donor, others provide free ambulance service, and still others arrange for blood donors.
Convalescent plasma therapy has emerged as a promising treatment for serious Covid patients. It uses a blood component called plasma -- which forms 55% of the blood and contains virus-fighting antibodies – from people who have recovered from the infection to treat other patients. It is still in the clinical trial phase and only a few hospitals are authorised to administer it under guidelines prescribed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) . Doctors, however, have warned people from considering the treatment as a “silver bullet” against Covid-19.
But it is hard to find a suitable plasma donor.
Delhi-based businessman Adwitiya Mal’s 69-year-old father-in-law, a Covid-19 patient admitted to a private hospital was critical and in need of plasma.
“It took us about four days to find a donor for my father-in-law. The process is unwieldy ,” said Mal. “It was then that my friend, US-based Mukul Pahwa, and I decided to launch Dhoondh.”
Dhoondh is a website dedicated to connect patients with donors. Both are asked to fill in accurate details such as blood type, underlying medical conditions, when they contracted the infection, among others. The website has had over 14,000 visitors, 110 patients and 63 plasma donors listed on it.
Pankhuri Dudani, a 25-year-old doctor, is one of the youngest donors registered with Dhoondh.
“I came across the website through a post on my school alumni group on social media. I recovered from Covid-19 earlier this month. It’s a very good initiative that was much needed at this time,” said Dudani, who is posted at the Covid-19 screening wing of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and is now back to work.
She said that she got a call from the family of a patient in need of plasma two days ago. “I am yet to hear from them again. I will encourage people to donate plasma, which is no different from donating blood.”
“I’m looking for more volunteers so that they can make follow-up calls,” said Mal.
Ambulance man of India
Himanshu Kalia (41), better known as the “Ambulance Man of India”, along with wife (37) Twinkle have been on their toes driving patients from hospital to hospital, as well as ferrying bodies to crematoriums. They charge nothing from their clients.
Kalia has been providing this service since 2002. But the pandemic has changed the nature of the service he provides. While on ordinary days he attends to five to six calls a day, now he gets up to 60, including from people who wanted to know of plasma donors and funeral services. During the 68-day lockdown that ended on May 31, he ferried 210 Covid-19 patients to hospitals, and 45 bodies to crematoriums.
“I would get calls from people saying that a private ambulance was charging ₹8000-10,000 for a distance of just 6 kms. There were patients who could not find an ambulance to take their dead to crematoriums. We have been working without rest even as two of my drivers as well as my wife tested positive for Covid-19,” said Kalia.
Kiran Verma and his team at Simply Blood, a non-profit organisation which connects blood donors with recipients, have been working with blood banks to maintain their stock.
Blood banks in the Capital were unable to organise large-scale blood donation camps during the lockdown when travel was restricted, and now fewer people volunteer to donate blood due to the fear of contracting the disease.
Verma said that his team has been trying to inform people about the blood donation camps in their areas, and persuade registered donors to donate. “The focus is now on Covid-19. But non-Covid patients such as those with thalassemia also need adequate attention and care. These patients need blood for transfusion on a monthly basis. But due to the lockdown and people being scared to go to the hospital to donate has resulted in a problem. Though our Twitter handle, we are trying to inform people about those who are in urgent need of blood. We are also working with blood banks to ensure that more and more people come and donate blood,” said Verma.