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It Takes a Community to Defeat COVID-19

A local cemetery working running on the ground collecting logs for funeral pyres, to perform the last rites for patients who died of Covid, on 29 April at the Ghazipur cremation ground in New Delhi. (Ghazipur Cremation Ground/File-Amit Sharma)

DEHRADUN, India/ABUJA, May 12 2021 (IPS) - The media is awash with the devastating news of deaths and sufferings due to COVID-19 coming out of India. What most media outlets overlook is the way Indian communities are rallying to save lives, reduce sufferings and stop the current wave of the pandemic.

As of May 11, 2021, India’s COVID-19 case total is about 23 million – with above 19 million recoveries, while total deaths are 250,025, according to the health ministry. All levels of hospitals and health facilities are full, after optimising their beds and staff, oxygen is almost not available, medicines are being bought in the black market and crematoriums have been inundated, forcing them to use nearby open spaces and parking lots to deal with the surge. Despite being the world’s largest producer of vaccines, India does not have enough for its own people.

Communities have to be acknowledged as the true heroes in this second wave of COVID-19 outbreak in India. Without support however, even they cannot flatten the COVID-19 curve

Shubha lives in Dehradun, in North India- with a population of one million, Dehradun is no different from anywhere else in India, but for the lack of much media attention. The Kumbh Mela, (a major pilgrimage and festival in Hinduism) did bring some focus to the state of Uttarakhand as a super-spreader event in the last month.

The past week has been consumed with calls all day around beds, medicines, oxygen and plasma. It all got really intense when someone in her own family got really serious and her condition scared the family tremendously. That was when the reality actually hit home – the scarcity, the fear, and the unrelenting nature of the virus.

While institutional care has taken priority in the conversation around COVID, from what is evident on the ground, it is the people who are enabling each other to seek appropriate care. Communities are coming together to maximise the resources they have, to promote preventive care and support post-hospital care. Mahatma Gandhi captured this sense of community aptly;

“a nation’s culture resides in the heart and in the soul of the people”.

This quote by Gandhi describes an important truth – one that still inspires us to believe the tremendous strength and courage that the people of India show in coming to the aid of sick people.

The current situation in India is clearly demonstrating the inequity in access to care, utilisation of care and showcases how institutions are catering to the privileged while the less-privileged suffer. As India attempts to rebuild, one good starting point is strengthening community supports and networks between the community and healthcare facilities.

Communities are the heart and soul of India. They have the potential to make or break the health of its people and impacts the determinants that drive health. It is important for us to understand its might and do all to meet the potential, now.

We give five examples of communities taking leadership to stem this second wave of COVID-19 in India:

First, religion unites. Religious communities have come forward to do their bit for patients and their families. The Sikh community in India and abroad has come forward to support families by distributing food, creating helplines, distributing oxygen, converting gurudwara premises into makeshift health facilities, and so much more.

Second, the power of celebrity. In India’s Covid-19 response, while most of the celebrities chose to stay quiet, one celebrity has been helping all along, including transportation for the migrant workers to return home, arrangement for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders, etc- Sonu Sood has been phenomenal in his relief efforts, and as he admits, “This was sheer teamwork and the will to help our fellow countrymen”.

Third, the Indian community knows no boundaries. Within the country and the Indian diaspora communities, the people are providing support. Nothing is too small to give. It all eventually adds up. For instance, the India COVID SOS is less than two weeks old.

However, it now has more than 500 members donating funds, equipment and expertise to stem the outbreak. In Dehradun, the number of people who have connected to share information about beds, oxygen, medicines and tests is unbelievable. It will take all of us, each of us, to get through this difficult time.

Fourth, heroic efforts of good samaritans, men, women and many others have ensured food for families through the pandemic. Pushkar Sinha of South Delhi collected details of all the elderly living in his building, collaborated with a nearby hospital and registered them for getting Covid-19 vaccination through the government’s Co-WIN app.

When some of the people said they were unable to get to the hospital, he arranged cars to ferry them. Deshna Krupa and her mom Ahalya from Chennai have been cooking free meals for Covid-19 patients who are quarantined at home.

Two sisters from Patna, Bihar, Anupama Singh and Neelima Singh along with their mother, Kundan Devi prepare and deliver food to homes.

Within days, groups all over India emerged to help support those in need.

Finally, the power of youths. Young people becoming volunteers to create resources for those in need of services. When Arushi Chaddha asked for help on Instagram, Suhail Shetty came forward to arrange for an oxygen concentrator. Nupur and Rahul Agarwal started “Mission Oxygen” to track oxygen concentrators and supplies, when they found a shortage of 3000.

With the help of social media, youth developed digital covid helplines to support affected families with testing, treatment, hospitalisation, oxygen support facilities, mental health, counselling and food services. Youth volunteers have created mobile apps to track bed situations in hospitals across the country.

India is really struggling with Covid-19 and needs global support. Importantly, communities have to be acknowledged as the true heroes in this second wave of COVID-19 outbreak in India. Without support however, even they cannot flatten the COVID-19 curve. The government must show responsibility to ensure that these community efforts are amplified.

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