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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Beds to cylinders, people lend a hand on social media

Many groups, previously engaged with blood donation, have also stepped up to the task. From fulfilling plasma needs, these volunteers are now working on getting ventilators, oxygen cylinders, hospitals beds and medicines.

Written by Surbhi Gupta | New Delhi |
April 25, 2021 1:21:59 am
Social media, Oxygen, Covid-19 India Second Wave, covid-19 cases in india, oxygen supply in Delhi, coronavirus cases in india, Delhi covid-19 cases, indian expressFree oxygen being provided by a Sikh organisation at a gurdwara in Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

For over a week, citizen volunteers across the country, from students to social media influencers, have been responding to SOS requests on Twitter from Covid patients seeking oxygen, ventilators, hospital beds, plasma and medicines.

The website has become a destination for family members and friends raising requests for their loved ones — or just receiving reassurances that all will be well. “Last year, when people would call me, they just needed someone to talk to. However, since the last 10 days, things have just blown up. Earlier, what were one or two messages, are now SOS calls coming from everywhere, I am unable to even keep a count,” said Sweta Dash, a Delhi-based public health researcher, who is part of Medical Support Group, a citizen group assisting critical and pregnant Covid-19 patients. “Twitter, WhatsApp, phone calls, all are full of requests.”

Dash asks those reaching out to fill up a basic form that is sent to a WhatsApp group of volunteers, who divide the cases among themselves and directly deal with families. “There is a separate group which coordinates with hospitals and suppliers to verify the number of beds available,” she said.

There is an information overload on Twitter at the moment, pointed out Dash. “It’s a lot of useless information as most of the leads are a week old or suppliers are out of stock,” she said.

“There is so much information, but so little information that holds value,” said Anchal Aggarwal, who has created a group of volunteers who verify leads, which she then communicates to family members on a one-to-one basis. “A lot of people are messaging us just for fun or hoarding, so gatekeeping is necessary,” said Aggarwal, who has a following of over 1.7 lakh on Instagram. She started amplifying requests last week and is involved full-time now.

Many groups, previously engaged with blood donation, have also stepped up to the task. From fulfilling plasma needs, these volunteers are now working on getting ventilators, oxygen cylinders, hospitals beds and medicines. The same format works here — one deals with family members, one verifies the information on an hour-to-hour basis. “What I do is that I identify requests on Twitter and share with them. And I’ve noticed 75% of requests are being met,” said Jaideep Pandey, a Gorakhpur-based independent journalist.

However, he added, requests for ventilators are most difficult to handle at the moment and their demand is the highest. “Even if we find a bed, finding ambulances is difficult. For plasma donation, one in 200 recovered patients is agreeing to donate,” said Pandey.

Delhi-based podcaster Ankit Gupta, who is on Twitter as Kisse Kahaniya and has a team of over 250 volunteer groups, also said ventilator beds are the most in demand and most difficult to fulfil. “We are unable to find oxygen cylinders. Even top hospitals in Delhi are only left with a few hours of oxygen,” he said.

Gupta’s team is also distributing food packets to over a 1,000 migrants and homeless people in Ramlila Maidan and Nigambodh Ghat, but funds crunch is posing a problem.

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