Purvang Pandya, 22, joined Masters in Social Work course at the Gujarat Vidyapith last year. He had never expected that in a year, he would be in a PPE suit serving Covid-19 patients at one of the largest public hospitals in Gujarat.
From Dakor town in Kheda district, Pandya was interested in medical social work and was scheduled for an internship at the hospital for mental health in Vadodara, but with the lockdown, he had to stay at home for two months, till the second half of May when he saw a post about a project to provide psychological support to Covid patients, on the college WhatsApp group and decided to volunteer.
“I was ready to join, but nobody in the family wanted me to go. But I explained to them that this would give me experience which will be helpful in getting a (government) job in future. So, eventually parents agreed (reluctantly),” said Pandya who is a commerce graduate from Sardar Patel University in Anand.
Posted in the 1,200-bed dedicated Covid-19 hospital at the Civil hospital in Ahmedabad, Pandya remembers a particular woman patient who was abandoned by her family and had only one saree to wear. He brought her two gowns to change into and that moved her. “One day, she touched my feet out of gratitude. It overwhelmed me… the satisfaction of what I was doing. This experience of serving Covid-19 patients is amazing,” says Pandya.
The woman, in early 50’s, stayed in the hospital for nearly a month. “Like many other patients, she used to see her son in me,” says Pandya.
In a unique initiative, around 30 students in the age group of 21-23 from Social Work department of Gujarat Vidyapith (GV) were taken in by the Gujarat government on a stipend of Rs 10,000 a month to counsel Covid-19 patients at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital since May. And following encouraging results, the state health department has extended the counselling services in New Civil Hospital of Surat and is planning to do the same in Rajkot which has recently seen a spurt in cases.
Like Pandya, parents of a 22-year-old girl student from GV were also reluctant to send her to do this job. The girl student says, “The moment I got the message about this project, I was ready to join. I wanted to get the feel of working in a PPE suit. But my parents were not ready. I tried to persuade them to let me go, but they did not budge. And then I cried a lot and they eventually agreed.”
The girl, a final year student of psychiatric social work at GV, was deployed at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital for two months and was then shifted to NCH in Surat along with 15 other social work students of GV. She recently tested positive and isolated herself at the assigned quarters in Surat.
“Initially, we were 16 students who started counselling. When we shared our experiences with other students at GV, they also joined. The Covid patients have a lot of possibility of slipping into depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And here a counsellor’s role becomes important because the doctors cannot give so much attention to a patient,” she says.
They would talk to the patients, get them talk to their relatives through video and audio calls, distribute books, fruits, get them involved in various group activities like storytelling, singing, prayers. They also celebrated Rakshabandhan and Independence Day with the patients.
“…Every day, after the prayers and stretching, there is a session of Hasyasan (laughter yoga) which is most popular among the patients. The level of positivity is different when they do the Hasyasan. It is the time when the ward which is otherwise very sombre, lights up,” says Pandya.
“They (students of GV) were extremely good. A lot of Covid patients were under a lot of mental stress. So, it was important to counsel them even when they were in the hospital. Therefore, we decided to have the MSW (Master of Social Work) students from Gujarat Vidyapith to work as counselors. That had a very good impact. After Ahmedabad and Surat, we are (planning) to get Gujarat Vidyapith students as counsellors in collaboration with some other colleges, in Rajkot as well,” says Principal Secretary (Health) Jayanti Ravi.
The initiative was launched in May this year when Ahmedabad was at its peak of Covid-19 cases and a team of experts from the Centre had recommended the state health department to provide counselling to Covid patients at the government-run treatment facilities apart from medication. The health department approached the authorities of GV to avail the services of the social work students.
Head of the Social Work Department of GV, Anandiben Patel said, “Because it was a lockdown period, all our students were at their respective homes. We put out a message to the students about serving the patients in Ahmedabad as counselors. It was a difficult phase as all were very scared of the coronavirus. We told the students that while it will be a great learning experience, the choice to join was completely voluntary. We even asked the students to take consent of their parents as well.”
“We needed total 30 students. Initially, we did not get the full number as many parents were not ready. But, gradually, on the basis of experiences of students who joined the Civil Hospital, other students also joined,” added Anandiben.
As the students got ready to serve the Covid-19 patients, they were first trained by the mental health wing of the health department and then put into service.
Arpan Nayak, a psychiatric social worker (PSW) at Hospital for Mental Health in Ahmedabad, is coordinating the entire initiative between the students of GV and the state health department.
Nayak, who himself is an alumni of GV, said, “Initially, we provided the students a basic training for the task and then put them into service. They are being kept at a special facility at the campus of Hospital for Mental Health near Delhi Darwaza (in Ahmedabad).”
While the students are attending patients at Covid hospitals, the authorities at GV are also complementing their efforts.
“We are constantly in touch with our students and the authorities of hospital. After all, they are young students. We keep asking them to be healthy and stay away from junk food. Their immunity and wellbeing is of paramount importance. We have formed a special Whatsapp group of these students where they post their regular updates,” said Vipin Makwana and Ishani Patel, assistant professors at Social Work Department of GV who are supervising the overall project at the university end.
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