Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Fighting Covid-19 In India: Is Social Media Doing A Better Job Than The Government?

Fighting Covid-19 In India: Is Social Media Doing A Better Job Than The Government?

From SMS medical consultations to running errands via Twitter, ordinary citizens are leveraging social media to help those in dire need. Here's three of them.

L-R: Anusheel Anuj, Rikit Shahi & Rishika Arora

A law student in Hyderabad, a political science enthusiast at Ashoka University and a Delhi-based doctor—they are just three of the hundreds of people who have stepped up to help strangers through the Internet amid the second wave of the pandemic sweeping across the country.

While videos of crematoriums overflowing with bodies and SOS messages posted by hospitals, doctors and Covid-19 patients have flooded social media filling us with a sense of dread, thousands of initiatives by netizens trying to collate Covid-19 resources to help each other at this time of crisis, have been heart-warming.

For Rishika Arora, a first year BA student at Ashoka University, it was the stress that many of her batchmates underwent due to the pandemic, that motivated her to put out a tweet offering to help students with their assignments.

“Hello! if you or a family member has been affected by covid and you need help with any assignments/academics (school + college), please dm me! i can work with polsci, english/lit, french, art, history, anything writing related, etc. please rt to amplify!,” Rishika tweeted on Thursday and within 24 hours her tweet had garnered more than 1,500 likes.

“I saw the toll that the pandemic took on many of my friends, when they or a family member tested positive. So, I thought the least I could do was help students, who are going through such difficulties by doing a few of their assignments for them. I never thought my tweet would reach anyone out of my college circle and I am pleasantly surprised at the response it has received,” says Rishika, who is at the moment, handling 40 assignment requests made by school and college students across the country.

While Rishika thinks it is unfortunate that “youngsters and common people have to shoulder the burden of keeping the country together and do the job of our elected representatives,” she says that this unfolding civil society movement has reinforced her faith in humanity.

And as Rishika has been focused on college and assignments, for Rikit Shahi, a fourth-year law student at Symbiosis University, Hyderabad, academics has taken a backseat.

Right from running errands like delivering packets of Knorr soup to Covid-19 patients under home isolation to amplifying requests for ventilator beds, medicines, plasma and oxygen cylinders on Twitter, Rikit has been very busy these past few weeks.

“I wake up at around 8.30 am and I start responding to messages from patients from all across the country and I try to help them find resources by helping them with contacts and amplifying their requests on social media. I do this till 1 am and repeat the same routine the next day. Amid all this I have been unable to attend classes or submit my assignments but I think that’s okay,” says Rikit.

Rikit has been volunteering ever since the pandemic broke out. He was involved with helping migrant labourers reach their villages during the first Covid-19 wave, last year.

However, when the second Covid-19 wave hit, Rikit took it a step further and offered to help just about anyone in and around Khairtabad area in Hyderabad. “If you live in and around Khairtabad (Hyderabad), are in isolation and need someone to run errands for you, reach out to me. Will be happy to help,” he tweeted on April 16 and ever since he has been busy round the clock, volunteering.

When asked if constant exposure to news of sorrow and grief gets overwhelming, Rikit answers in the affirmative.

“There have been times when I received requests to help find ventilator beds and after searching a lot when I could finally arrange for one, I would be told that it was too late and that the patient, who needed it, has died. Such incidents get very overwhelming but at times like that I think of all the instances when I was able to help and that keeps me going,” says Rikit.

Further emphasising his point he recalls how a few days back, someone had got in touch with him requesting leads for a hospital bed for a pregnant Covid-19 patient, whose oxygen levels were dipping.

“Within half an hour I was able to arrange a bed for that lady at Gandhi Hospital here, after the state health minister’s office helped me when they saw my tweet requesting for the same. Now, she’s doing fine and recovering and it’s cases like these that make it all worth it,” says Rikit.

Meanwhile, Dr Anusheel Anuj, a Delhi-based casualty medical officer, is epitomising the saying that “not all heroes wear capes” (turns out many wear stethoscopes).
Dr Anusheel is juggling his full-time job at a private hospital in Delhi with offering free consultations to people suffering from mild cases of Covid-19 infection via the Internet and text messages.

On April 21, Dr Anusheel had put out the following post on Instagram: “Anybody who is testing positive, has mild symptoms and needs a consultation, please send me a text. I would revert back in max 30 mins. Pls help spread the message.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Anusheel Anuj (@anusheelanuj)

Dr Anusheel says the motivation behind that post was to help reduce the burden on the healthcare system.

“Compared to the first Covid-19 wave, this time the patient inflow has increased manifold and there’s scarcity of doctors because of which people with mild coronavirus cases are not being able to get proper treatment and they are progressing to become moderate cases. So, I felt if I can reach out to more people by helping them to treat themselves at home via Internet and phone, it would be helpful,” says Dr Anusheel.

Ever since his post went viral, Dr Anusheel has been receiving about 100 consultation requests per day and he tries to answer as many as he can.

“I begin my day by answering about 20 requests. Then I head to work and try to answer more requests during my breaks. I have a questionnaire that I send to everyone so they can give me a basic background including medical history, then I take it forward from there. I only treat mild cases because I cannot treat moderate or serious cases through telephone. Those cases require in-person consultations,” says Dr Anusheel.

When asked how he personally deals with all the grim news emerging due to the pandemic, he admits it gets overwhelming but adds that words of encouragement from his patients keep him going.

“Recently, a young girl and her parents were admitted at a covid ward and she was constantly in touch with me, telling me her dad’s health is deteriorating. She wanted me to help but there was not much I could do because I don’t have discretion to order anything, there. But I could empathise with her and boost her morale and she said that that really made a difference and it’s conversations like these that motivate me,” says Dr Anusheel.

And when asked on what would be the one key advice he would give to people right now, Dr Anusheel stresses on the need to stay home.

“Let’s not wait for the government to impose a lockdown. We must impose a lockdown on ourselves for 10-15 days. That would give a breather to our healthcare system and it would help it reboot,” says Dr Anusheel heaving a sigh.