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The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is playing out vividly on social media platforms, which have been inundated with desperate pleas for help from critically ill Covid patients and their loved ones.
Over the last few weeks, a catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has choked India’s fragile healthcare system, with states across the country reporting acute shortages of hospital beds, oxygen, and potentially life-saving medication. The crisis is playing out vividly on social media platforms, which have been inundated with desperate pleas for help from critically ill Covid patients and their loved ones.
When 23-year-old Bhopal-based video producer Akshit Chawla tweeted that he required five doses of the antiviral drug Remdesivir for his Covid positive aunt, he did not expect much of a response. He typed out a quick post and shared it along with a doctor’s prescription his aunt had received at a multi-specialty hospital in Indore days earlier.
To his surprise, within minutes, his post was shared over 50 times. By the next day, the post had garnered over 300 retweets and dozens of comments from helpful strangers.
My aunt is in hospital in Indore and needs 5 more vials of Remdesivir. Any leads would be appreciated. Pls RT. pic.twitter.com/TOdm8gdGJh
— Akshit Chawla (@akshitchawla04) April 19, 2021
“People were helping me by sending me helpline numbers, contacts at medical shops, as well as attempting to connect me with people selling Remdesevir in the black market,” Akshit recalled. He spent the next three hours calling government helpline numbers but to no avail. “I made at least 60 phone calls between 7 PM and 10 PM that day, but nobody answered.”
While the incident dashed his spirits, Akshit didn’t give up hope. Within days, a few Twitter users began sharing “authentic contacts”, who promised to deliver the anti-viral drug to his aunt’s doorstep.
With hospitals across the country stretched to their limits, much like Akshit, thousands have turned to social media to seek help. In response, an overwhelming number of social media users and organizations have risen to the occasion — connecting Covid patients with scarce resources like oxygen cylinders and hospital beds and compiling crowdsourced lists of eligible plasma donors and other vital information.
Jammu and Kashmir’s #SOSJK campaign
In Jammu and Kashmir, the hashtag #SOSJK has been doing the rounds for the last two days. The campaign was launched this week to help assist Covid patients in the region, who were struggling to access healthcare services. “We started a Twitter handle for the initiative yesterday, and already have 600 followers,” Jammu resident Khushboo Mattoo said.
If there is one lesson to take away from the aggressive second wave that is battering the country today, it is the importance of being prepared for potential calamities. While the rise in Covid cases has not been as staggering in J&K as in several other states, Khushboo says it is never too early to prepare for adversity.
COVID 19 is now worse than ever. At this time, it is important that we all are working together. If you have recently recovered from the virus, please volunteer and share your information to donate plasma.#SOSJK #JammuKashmir https://t.co/PdZLdc6Tnw
— SOS_JK (@jkcovid2021) April 22, 2021
“We are creating databases for oxygen distributors, ambulances, and plasma donors so if the situation gets worse, we will be ready,” she explained. “The response so far has been tremendous. We have over 100 volunteers already. Considering we just released a Google form at 2 AM last night, it’s not bad at all.”
Dhoondh’s algorithm to connect plasma donors with Covid patients
Last year, Delhi-based agro-tech entrepreneur Adwitiya Mal launched ‘Dhoondh’, a platform that matches plasma donors with Covid patients in real-time using an algorithm devised in consultation with medical experts.
When he started the website with his wife and a childhood friend, they were receiving around 280 requests per day. Since April this year, the website is seeing 10 times more traffic, with thousands of patients registering every single day.
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“I find that social media is a great way of motivating people to help the cause, either as donors or as volunteers,” he said. “We are using social media to amplify things.”
In recent days, Bollywood bigwigs like Sonam Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra have also turned to social media to urge people to volunteer their time and resources to the fight against Covid. While this helps to amplify voices, according to Adwitiya, the process still needs to be put through a proper channel. “There is an operational side to this process, which can’t be ignored. The process of sharing on social media about Covid also needs to be streamlined,” he said.
Gurgaon-based Hemkunt Foundation distributes oxygen cylinders free of cost
The National Capital has seen Covid-19 cases overwhelm the existing oxygen supply, with several major private hospitals warning that they have mere minutes of oxygen left. In the face of this shortage, Gurgaon-based Hemkunt Foundation has been providing oxygen cylinders free of charge to coronavirus patients in Mumbai and Delhi. Like Dhoondh, the foundation has been involved in Covid relief efforts since the first wave. But the sheer volume of requests it has received this time around has been alarmingly higher.
10:26pm: We are still distributing truck loads of Oxygen Cylinders in Gurgaon and will continue to do so throughout the night to critical #covid_19 patients
— Hemkunt Foundation (@Hemkunt_Fdn) April 20, 2021
“While we were receiving around 100 odd requests during the first wave, now we get about 10,000,” Hemkunt Foundation’s community development director Harteerath Singh told the Indianexpress.com. According to him, around 99 percent of these requests are received on social media.
But with the not-for-profit seeing thousands of requests on a daily basis, they have had to lay down a few conditions. “We have to prioritize people. We are only accepting requests from people whose oxygen level is at 85 or below. We have turned down requests from celebrities and politicians because prioritizing people who really need help is a major factor for us,” Harteerath explained.
The foundation’s team of volunteers works around the clock, fielding phone calls and scouring through social media posts shared by people in need of oxygen cylinders.
But these good samaritans leading coronavirus relief efforts across the country are not oblivious to the limitations of social media. “We have four volunteers constantly manning the social media desk. It isn’t easy and does take a toll on people’s mental health. We have seen our volunteers test positive for Covid,” Hateerath said.