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How volunteers have made social media the national Covid ‘helpline’ for beds, oxygen, plasma

Volunteer groups involving members from different walks of life — from IT professional to college students & IPS officer — are helping Covid patients get what they need.

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New Delhi: Over the last few days, social media groups, including on WhatsApp, have been flooded with very specific requests by Covid-19 patients — for oxygen cylinders, the drug remdesivir, hospital beds, and plasma donations. And thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers and good Samaritans all over India, several patients have been able to get the required help within hours.

Anyone who asks for help online and on social media is sure to see some common names and numbers pop up. One of those names is Vibha Pandey, an IT professional associated with an NGO called Learning Spaces in Karnataka. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has turned to helping people get what they need.

People who haven’t even met her bring her up in WhatsApp conversations when anyone asks for help to find a hospital bed for a Covid patient.

“Talk to Vibha Pandey. I don’t know her personally, but she can get hospital beds,” was the response this reporter received when a request for help was sent on a WhatsApp group.

Pandey told ThePrint that her phone is constantly buzzing these days.

“Even before the news of shortage goes to the media or the government, I get to know there is a problem because I start getting phone calls,” she said.

Last year, Vibha Pandey, along with a group of college students who volunteered to work with her, helped deliver medicines and food to people during the lockdown. She was also able to secure hospital beds for the poor. Now, her group has created a separate handle called @casesgurgaon to help people out during this national crisis.

Her only skill, she says, is that she is very persuasive. “Sometimes I lie to the guards, pretend that I am on a conference call with a doctor inside the hospital. I know once inside the premises, it is easier to secure a bed,” she said.

Pandey said the problem is that people tag PM Narendra Modi or their respective states’ chief ministers for help, as most of them don’t know who their local administrators are.

“We need to hold the local officers and politicians accountable for the crisis. They are also more accessible. Most of the time, all my volunteers need to do is to call them,” she added.

Also read: Past Covid infection doesn’t guarantee immunity even in young, vaccination must: Study in Lancet

‘Requests more difficult to fulfil in this surge’

Pandey is hardly alone in taking the initiative to help out as Covid-19 cases surge.

IPS officer Arun Bothra is another person who has established a pan-India network of volunteers. Called India Cares, the group has also been helping people out since last year’s lockdown, when it had assisted people in getting food and medicines.

Overwhelmed with the number of pleas for help they were receiving online, Pulkit Goyal, a 24-year-old Delhi-based software engineer associated with India Cares, created a Twitter bot that filters out mentions and sends the tweets that tag India Cares to the volunteer group’s Telegram channel.

The network coordinates its efforts using one core WhatsApp group, and two Telegram channels. The network had 3,000 volunteers last year.

According to Goyal, as cases went down, most of the volunteers got back to their daily lives. But now, with cases surging, the group is trying to bring all of them back on board.

However, Goyal did acknowledge that the requests people are making this time are more difficult to fulfil.

“Last year, it was mostly about people not being able to access food and medicines. But this year, what they mostly need are four things — plasma, oxygen, remdesivir, and hospital beds. All of these are short in supply,” he said.

“There are many online resources currently that list the names of oxygen suppliers and remdesivir, but when we call them, they do not have supplies,” he added.

On Instagram, a group of volunteers have created a page called Plasma Donors Delhi, which tries to connect willing plasma donors to Covid-19 patients in need. The main admin of the page is a 21-year-old student, Aashi Goel.

This group, too, is overwhelmed with requests for plasma, and has now created an online registration process where people can sign up if they want to donate plasma, or are in need of plasma donations.

Similarly, Ameen-e-Mudassar, CEO of Bengaluru-based CIGMA Foundation, has set up a website that works as a ready resource for Covid-19-related help in the Karnataka capital.


Also read:After early success, why India’s daily Covid infections have surpassed US and Brazil


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