Despite the grief and sorrow brimming in people’s hearts during the severest of the COVID-19 pandemic waves, the indomitable spirit to help each other survived and shone bright.
"It was not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also cascading humanitarian crises which had caused havoc in people’s lives. My faith in humanity became deeper when I saw how despite the grief and sorrow, people had hope and courage to help each other. Perhaps in situations wherein despair is experienced, responding with hope can help us cope with grieving,” said Mudit Shukla, who works as an engineer and has volunteered for people’s movements since over a decade.
“Health and social security systems were failing to cope with the severest of the crises during the pandemic. Despite overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness, those of us who had access to internet and resources, used social media and other digital technologies to try to be of help to those in acute need - most of whom may not be having access to social media or digital tools,” added Mudit, who is among the nominees of 2023 Unite Health COVID-19 Social Media Influencers Awards (www.socmedawards.com).
Mudit was one of the volunteers who used social media and digital technologies to help build and manage a People’s Health Helpline – COVID-19 Service. During Delta-variant led COVID-19 wave, Mudit’s team came forward to help people with services that were acutely short. It was not only COVID-19 related healthcare services or supplies that were in high demand but also a range of other health services had got jeopardized due to the pandemic. That is why this helpline was conceived to respond to COVID-19 and other healthcare needs – a tiny drop in the ocean. One major challenge was to bridge the online/ digital approaches with those working on the ground.
For instance, they mobilized a group of doctors online from range of super-specialities in India and USA, to volunteer their time for online consultation. Soon after the launch of this helpline, online medical consultation expanded to include WhatsApp-based teleconsultation as it was more familiar to the users in rural or suburban Uttar Pradesh state in India. Over 350 people reached out to seek medical help and guidance via this tool.
As oxygen shortage intensified, team of which Mudit is a part of, ran a digital campaign to mobilize resources online to procure oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, oximeters, thermal scanning devices, and other necessities. They were able to get 11 small (10 litres) and 3 jumbo-sized oxygen cylinders, over 25 oxygen concentrators, medicines, food, 70 oximeters, 60 thermal scanners, over 8000 hand-stitched masks, among other items. Oxygen was in such short supply that people-in-need were willing to take empty cylinders from them and get them filled for use.
Volunteers from rural and suburban areas received a briefing/ hands-on training in a hospital so that they can go back to their areas with oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders and other essential supplies, and help the people in need. Many of these services got integrated in the primary health centres.
Thanks to social media, online tools, and volunteers, within a span of few weeks, oxygen concentrators and other necessary supplies were reaching and helping people in need in 18 cities: Gonda, Kannauj, Azamgarh, Pratapgarh, Kanpur, Varanasi, Hardoi, Sitapur, Barabanki, Unnao, Basti, Gorakhpur, Moradabad, Lucknow, Chandauli, Ballia, and Lakhimpur Khiri districts of Uttar Pradesh state, and Nadia of West Bengal state. Food relief packets were provided to 680 families in Lucknow and 100 families in Moradabad for several weeks during the intense phases of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Mudit acknowledges the leadership of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey, former bureaucrat Dr Parveen Talha, then-student of Oxford University Rutuja, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai experts like Prof Om Damani, and many others who helped build and manage the helpline.
“Most important service was not being done by those behind a computer, but by those in rural and suburban areas who were on the frontlines,” reflects Mudit.
One ray of light is enough to break darkness
There were several rays of light and hope that shone bright during the dark pandemic. Some of them are the nominees of 2023 Unite Health COVID-19 Social Media Influencers Awards.
Suhas Kolhekar’s efforts ensured that social movements across India were able to get analytical and critical insights on government’s response (or lack of) during the pandemic. She was instrumental in mobilizing National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and other networks to unitedly demand stronger public health services and stop privatization of public services. Corporate capture of public services was alarmingly high during the pandemic, and Suhas Tai, as she is respectfully addressed, played a key role to expose and challenge it, as well as mobilise movements to call for stronger corporate accountability and public services.
When the lockdown got clamped, people who needed lifesaving medicines from government-run centres were left with diminishing supplies. Manoj Pardeshi who leads National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India along with his team had successfully mobilized hundreds of people from their network who helped to deliver lifesaving antiretroviral therapy at the doorstep (or at a preferred location) of people with HIV in several states of India.
LinkedIn or Twitter followers of Dr Anoop Misra – a stalwart medical authority on diabetes - are aware of his informative posts. He is also nominated for the 2023 Unite Health COVID-19 Social Media Influencers Awards. From the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, the body of evidence has been growing on how diabetes is one of the important co-morbidities that puts people at risk of serious outcomes of COVID-19 and/or death. Dr Misra’s contribution in responding to endless online querries of people with diabetes during the pandemic as well as helping us stay informed on latest of diabetes and COVID-19 science is indeed commendable.
Dr Siva Prasad Reddy Tangella who is the editor of a news channel in Telangana state is also one of the COVID-19 Influencers Award nominees. He hosted daily live shows (on his channel and social media) on range of health and development issues in context of the pandemic and ground realities.
Hero lies in you
If you or anyone you know had played a key role in using social media during the pandemic then nominations for the coveted 2023 Unite Health COVID-19 Social Media Influencers Awards are open till 20th May 2023: www.socmedawards.com . Time to say thanks to them is now!
Bobby Ramakant – CNS (Citizen News Service)