Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)
With decline in Covid cases, volunteers turn attention to ration, mental health issues
JAIPUR: As daily Covid cases fall to below 1,500 from a high of 20,000 in Rajasthan, the focus of volunteer groups that proved a life saver for thousands battling the deadly viral disease has shifted to issues such as ration distribution and mental health.
During the second Covid wave that saw a huge rise in the number of cases as well as deaths, the health facilities came under immense pressure with hospitals full and people fighting to get ICU beds or normal beds in hospitals which were full to the brim, medicines, oxygen cylinders, and plasma.
Several volunteer groups worked round the clock during the second wave and provided verified information on medical facilities and supplies.
The volunteer groups were launched by individuals and students who wanted to provide assistance and information to harried patients and their families.
With the second wave flattening, post-covid issues have cropped up and volunteer groups are turning attention to blood donation, distribution of ration and essential supplies and mental health.
Groups like Covid Jaankari Rajasthan, Rajasthan Covid Support, Robinhood Army were initiatives taken by students and individuals. They formed teams of student volunteers who verified leads on availability of beds, ICU beds, oxygen, medicines, ambulances, plasma donation before sharing it on social media platforms such as Twitter, Whatsapp groups and Facebook.
Swati Khadelwal, who started Covid Jaankari Rajasthan, says the initiative was born out of personal experience.
“In April, some relatives living in remote areas got Covid. At that time we struggled to give them information about getting RT-PCR tests at testing facilities or hospital admissions. Pharmacies had no stock of pulse oximeters or thermometers. Then I realised that the situation was serious.”
Khandelwal, 34, who is founder of Eximious health, a healthcare company, spoke to some of her IIM Bangalore and IIT friends and used their experience in healthcare and technology to launch a tech-led, crowd sourced platform to provide verified information and resources to those in need.
So, they launched the Covid Jaankari initiative which eventually became a pan India platform with chapters in several cities. They created Whatsapp groups for each city and also a Twitter handle where they would get around 400 queries per minute. “This shows the extent and gravity of the situation,” she says.
They put together a team of over 250 college students from across India to volunteer. The volunteers would validate the leads by making calls and mainpeople tain a database and provide information,” she says.
With the situation easing now, Covid Jaankari is arranging requests for food and ration for Covid affected families in different cities
“We provided ration to families affected by COVID in different parts of Rajasthan like Jaipur, Sikar, Ajmer, Gangapur. We have tied-up with Zomato as a delivery partner to provide food to the needy across different cities, including Jaipur, says Khandewal.
They have also tied-up with a pool of doctors to provide teleconsultation for those in urgent need of clinical advice. They are organising live sessions with eminent doctors across India to bust the myths around COVID and related concerns.
Prem Pal Singh, a cyber crime expert started Covid Support Rajasthan, along with a few friends, in April when the number of Covid cases rose sharply. They too formed a team of volunteers by contacting college students in Jaipur.
“The volunteers would check leads on medical supplies, medicines and other resources and share the information,” says
He says the team would get some 200-250 requests for assistance daily on their twitter handle, Whatsapp group or through calls. For over a month, the team members worked day and night to handle the SOS calls.
Now the volunteers who are mostly students of mass communication are engaged in making videos with messages promoting Covid appropriate behaviour and vaccination.
“The messaging too is an important part of the fight against Covid. Repeatedly telling the do’s and don’ts during Covid will ensure we don’t land in a mess in a possible third wave,” says Singh.
Ankita Sarda, a volunteer with Robinhood Army, says around 80 volunteers were working in Jaipur through the pandemic. “We would handle 60-70 calls per day and work almost round the clock.
“It was a very tough but satisfying experience especially when we could help someone get a bed or medicine,” she says. There were good and bad experiences. “For instance, there were times when our team members would struggle to arrange a bed in a hospital for a patient and when we called to inform them, they would say they did not want to go. We would get upset but the positives outweigh the negatives,” says 29-year-old Ankita.
Sarda says they get few calls now which are mainly requests for blood or injections for Mucormycosis. We get about a dozen calls daily for blood which we try to arrange through our Whatsapp groups or through blood banks.”
Most blood banks in Jaipur and other cities are running dry as donations shrink.
Dr Manmohan Mittal, member secretary of the Rajasthan State Blood Transfusion Council acknowledges that blood donations have declined. But he says the requirement too has fallen so there is no major shortfall.
“There are no planned surgeries taking place. Only emergencies and Covid cases are being treated. The main blood requirement at this time for pregnant women and children with Thalassemia,” he says.
Dr Mittal says the council has written to all the 174 blood banks in Rajasthan to organise small blood donation camps adhering to all Covid protocols.
Dr Mittal said while in January 2021, 70,843 units of blood was collected in April this reduced to just 3,491 units in April 2021.
Apart from blood, the Robinhood Army has also launched a campaign to feed the poor. In fact, when the Robinhood Army was formed in 2014 by a group of professionals in Delhi, it’s main focus was on feeding the poor. The volunteers in Delhi and later in other cities would take excess food from hotels and restaurants and distribute it to the poor and homeless.
Now the volunteers are once again providing ration and supplies to daily wagers and homeless people.
“These people have been hard hit by the Covid pandemic and lost their livelihoods. Many are finding it difficult to get two square meals a day. Our volunteers in Jaipur are distributing around 200 food packets a day,” says Sarda.