“Please help!” “Can someone help?” “Any leads?” These are just some of the cries for help on social media by people looking for oxygen cylinders, ICU beds, ventilators, plasma, and medicines for friends/family/acquaintances in India.
Just when Indians thought the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind them, it snuck up on them like a monstrous sneaker wave. Distressing images and videos coming out of India, which are beyond heartbreaking, are not for the faint of heart.
The wave of infections – likely driven by a more lethal strain – that has engulfed the country has stirred feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger among Indian Americans, who are fearful for the lives of their loved ones back home.
As the world pitches in, the situation is worsening by the day, with hapless patients across the country gasping for breath, and exhausted doctors and hospitals sending out SOS calls on social media. The situation is so dire that many patients, who are shunted from hospital to hospital, are not even getting a chance at life and are dying waiting for a bed, or a ventilator, at the doorsteps of hospitals that are too full to admit new patients.
Add the scarcity, and black marketing of oxygen cylinders and medicines like Remdesivir –which is approved in India for restricted emergency use for the treatment of severe COVID cases – the crisis is growing at a staggering pace.
Ambulances crammed with COVID-19 victims, days-long wait at crematoriums and funeral pyres burning 24/7 in literally every village of every city across the country makes it nothing short of an apocalypse.
Amit J is grateful that his Uttar Pradesh-based maternal aunt and her son were able to secure treatment – but in a different city, at two different hospitals.
“If they’d been infected a week later, I don’t know what would’ve happened. My cousin is doing better but my aunt is still on oxygen support and needs six Remdesivir injections. Being isolated is also taking a toll on her mental health,” he told India-West. “For the last five days, my family has been searching just about everywhere for those injections. A single vial of the medicine is being sold on the black market at a price that is 10 times higher. My cousin also mentioned that some senior doctors are refusing to treat virus patients.”
More and more people are complaining of breathlessness this time. “My father is grieving the death of his friend who died yesterday morning because he couldn’t get oxygen support on time,” he added.
As the Fremont, Calif.-based IT professional regularly calls to check in on them, he is also worried about his parents and other family members who live in India.
“I tell them to stay home as much as possible,” he told India-West. “It’s unnerving but there is only so much you can do from here.”
The story also hit home for another Bay Area resident, Shalini Kathuria Narang, whose parents contracted the virus when she was in Delhi in the first week of April.
Narang, who returned to the U.S. April 16, told India-West that although she tested negative before boarding the flight, she developed physical manifestations during the journey and tested positive upon her arrival.
“The Indian healthcare system is definitely under unprecedented pressure and despite that I saw/experienced, the medical professionals work incredibly hard under high pressure circumstances,” Narang told India-West. “Personally, I faced no issues with my testing or securing reports or with securing oxygen concentrator or cylinders for my parents, but anecdotally I have heard a lot of supply issues and problems that people have faced.”
Seattle, Washington-based Saloni Kumar told India-West that while she is relieved that her parents have been inoculated, she fears for their wellbeing because the virus is spreading even among those vaccinated.
“Everyone knows someone who is affected by this. My uncle’s family went to the Kumbh Mela and returned with COVID and, unfortunately, my aunt’s brother-in-law passed away. My father’s friend lost his young son. It is extremely worrying and scary,” she told India-West. “My parents are not stepping out. They’ve stopped buying vegetables and are relying on pulses and grains.”
Mixed messages about the pandemic likely gave people a false sense of security and they let their guard down, said Kumar.
“For the longest time, there was this notion of Indians having strong immune systems. There was so much false information shared via WhatsApp messages,” she explained.
Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, from Washington, also shared that both her parents, who live in India, were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized, but are now recuperating.
“It was rough. I’ve got to say both my parents are there. They’re 80 and 90 years old… My dad needed oxygen,” she told MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes. “Now in retrospect, I’m almost glad — it’s a strange thing to say that it happened when it did, because they were at the beginning of the surge. I’m not sure they could have gotten into the hospital or gotten oxygen had they not been. They are thankfully home and recuperating.”
“They’ve made it through the roughest time. And I think the fact that they got the first dose of the vaccine four weeks before actually helped to limit their symptoms. But we saw it happening,” she added.
The only way to tame this surge is to get everyone vaccinated, but that is also a herculean task. Many Indian Americans India-West spoke to expressed concerns over the shortage of vaccine supplies and the country lacking a go-to source regarding the pandemic.
Virginia-based Naina Singh shared that many folks in her native village in Rajasthan are hesitant to take the vaccine because some people died after developing blood clots within weeks of getting their shots.
“I wish we had someone like Dr. Fauci. I have heard so much bad news in the last week, that it’s heartbreaking,” she told India-West. “My mom, my sister and her family are all doing fine right now but I’m scared.”
As stories of desperation and helplessness emerge from India, Indian Americans, too, are feeling frustrated and powerless.
“The government should’ve known better; it should’ve done better,” Neha Sharma, whose family is in Mumbai, told India-West. “Waking up each day to countless stories of people going through hell makes me so mad and so sad at the same time. This is your worst nightmare come true especially when you can’t be there for your family.”
Several Indian Americans are looking for ways to donate and help in any way they can, as they call on the U.S. government to help hasten the vaccine distribution process in India and send more supplies of oxygen and medicine.
Joining the chorus is Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, who urged President Joe Biden to help her homeland.
“My heart breaks. India is suffering from COVID19 & the US has ordered 550M more vaccines than needed @POTUS @WHCOS @SecBlinken @JakeSullivan46 Thx for sharing AstraZeneca worldwide, but the situation in my country is critical. Will you urgently share vaccines w/ India? #vaxlive,” she wrote on Twitter April 26.
The White House said April 29 that the U.S. government assistance flights, carrying vital supplies, would begin arriving in India April 29 and would continue into next week. Locally, Indian American groups are purchasing and sending oxygen concentrators, ventilators, PPE kits, CPAP machines and other supplies.
Lists of nonprofits that are distributing medical equipment and other help are being circulated on social media. Indian American Instagram influencers like Arshia Moorjani and Ami Desai have been sharing names of organizations that are helping and that people can assist.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based couple Kanika and Rohit Mendiratta, whose parents live in Delhi, have created a website www.covidreliefindia.com and have also started a GoFundMe to raise money for Save Life Foundation; as of April 29, the fundraiser had raised close to $300,000 of a goal of $500,000.
The Institute for South Asia Studies at UC Berkeley provided the following list of the some of the nonprofits offering Covid assistance to India:
- The American India Foundation (AIF)
The American India Foundation is launching Phase II of its COVID-19 relief effort to provide infrastructure support (such as oxygen supplies), to protect front line workers via PPE and other measures, and to build community resilience through campaigns and nutrition. Donations are accepted from the United States: Donate HERE
- Hemkunt Foundation
The Hemkunt Foundation is providing oxygen cylinders free of charge to families in critical need in the Delhi NCR region. Donations are being accepted in India and internationally: Donate HERE
- Arogya World
Arogya World is a global health non-profit organization working to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). During the pandemic, Arogya has focused on advancing the dialogue on workplace health and providing resources and information relating to Covid-19 relief. Learn more here: Donate Here
GiveIndia is currently raising funds for healthcare workers, patients, and all those suffering from the second wave of the Covid-19 crisis in India. There are many trusted campaigns which you can support: Donate Here
Ketto is an Indian crowdfunding site currently focused on raising funds for oxygen supplies for Indian hospitals: Donate Here
Additionally, two lists of organizations that have been at the forefront of responding to this public health crisis are:
- organizations engaged in local efforts to assist vulnerable populations during this pandemic;
HERE is one compiled by the India Philanthropy Alliance, a coalition of 14 development and humanitarian organizations that mobilize funding, volunteer and professional talent, and alliances in the United States (and elsewhere) to benefit India.