The insidious second wave of the coronavirus infection left the whole country gasping for breath. The healthcare system was overwhelmed. With an acute shortage of oxygen, people were frantically looking for help on social media for securing a bed in hospital, medicines and medical oxygen cylinders. In these unprecedented times, alumni groups and associations of various universities and colleges across India lent a helping hand.
“During the last lockdown, many of the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai alumni were involved in migration support activities and other Covid response initiatives across the country on an individual basis. However, in April the second wave of the pandemic resulted in a chaotic desperate situation in Delhi and other cities, the situation was worse in smaller towns. A lot of people were desperately seeking help and their plight was not just due to lack of resources but even caused by the non-availability of verified/dependable information,” said Sobins Kuriakose, 40, who completed MA in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai in 2007.
This led to the coming together of the TISS alumni to connect the needy with verified information/resources, provide critical support services, counselling and a fund-raising initiative. The group has been able to extend support to the most vulnerable such as Persons with Disability (PwDs), senior citizens, pregnant women, children, etc. The ‘TISS Alumni – Covid Response’ is an initiative of over 400 TISS alumni and professors.
Similarly, Tarun Kumar Bansal, 36, an alumnus of BITS Pilani (2005) and Birla Public School, Pilani, started a support initiative with a network of 1500+ alumni when he was sitting at home seeing distress calls in school and college WhatsApp groups with only a few replies.
Soon after, Tarun, along with Arun Khandelia, president of the school’s alumni association, floated a Google form for volunteer recruitment, successfully recruited 40 volunteers, and worked 24X7 since then.
“We have city-wise WhatsApp groups with a coordinator. We have received 1,500 to 2,000 requests and with our volunteer network and alumni in various cities, we have fulfilled approximately 500-600 requests completely. Most people do not need hospitalisation if they get basic injections and oxygen setup at home. Fortunately, we found one alumnus in our network who has a big network of nurses as his business is to outsource nursing professionals globally. Then, the nurses visited patients in their cities twice every day to give injections under the doctor’s guidance as well as set up oxygen cylinders,” Tarun said.
While medical needs increased manifold during the second wave of Covid, unemployment rate was also on the high. Many people lost their jobs amid Covid due to various reasons. The IIT Madras Alumni Association (IITMAA) tapped into the gap and started working on it along with other support initiatives such as arranging funds for oxygen cylinders, importing oxygen concentrators from abroad and verifying leads.
“While most IIT Madras alumni are professionally successful, the coronavirus made us come together for the greater good. On our official website, we created a portal for jobs. So, if anyone who has recently lost their job can sign up with their details. Simultaneously, people post job opportunities. As someone posts a job, those who registered on the portal will get a notification and they can apply for it. People have found part-time, full-time and freelance opportunities through this amid Covid. Alumni in the US are organising a campaign to financially support the community at large and have collected a million-dollar already,” Latha Venkitachalam, Executive Director, IITMAA told indianexpress.com.
A team of IIT Guwahati alumni, who developed a drone-based delivery mechanism, is also a part of the ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project by the Telangana government. The medical delivery drone – Hepicopter – is accessible through a mobile app to enable medical delivery drones to penetrate the remote inaccessible areas where public health centres (PHCs) can get daily supplies at a click of a button within a few minutes.
The team has developed drones to counter the struggles faced by the government. These include disinfectant spraying drone for sanitisation; movement tracking drone for real-time surveillance, crowd control and public health warnings; thermal analysis drone to detect high body temperatures in people from a distance; and drone delivery of critical medical supplies.
“The delivery works on a hub-and-spoke model. The team gets a message on the inventory needed. This is loaded at the central hub, and the drones take off, after the regular pre-flight tests and checks of wind conditions, audio pilot systems, and GPS tracker. The coordinates are fed into the systems and the health examiner picks up the vials at the drop-off point. From blood and vaccines to diagnostic medical samples and long-tail medicine, health centres can get varied facilities,” said Prem Kumar Vislawath, co-founder of the project and 2008 alumnus of IIT Guwahati.
The alumni association of Ashoka University has also set up a website and have a dedicated (WhatsApp only) helpline number for people to reach out to them. The initiative has 100+ volunteers and cover requests in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Jabalpur, Lucknow, Dehradun, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Selam, Hosur, Jaipur and Meerut
“We work on cases across the board – not restricted to the Ashoka community. Our team of volunteers work dedicatedly to verify leads for – prescribed medicines, oxygen cylinders, concentrators, refills and kits, hospital beds (general, oxygen, ICU, ventilator, ECMO), ambulance, home ICU setup, food services for patients, online doctor consultations, at home covid testing and blood donors and units. Our database of verified leads is available as a link on our website,” said Antara Choudhury, who is leading the initiative and is an alumnus of Ashoka University’s Young India Fellowship (YIF).
The alumni efforts are not limited to the premier institutes or metropolitan cities. A group of alumni from the College of Dairy Technology, Pusad in rural Maharashtra have also been trying to help as many people as possible.
“Most of our alumni and their families have a humble background as we are related to agricultural roots. When we saw the severe impact of the second wave, especially in the rural part of India, there was no help from the government. When the mother of one of our alumni needed medicine for Mucormycosis/Black Fungus, it was not available in stores due to shortage. But, when we asked our alumni, it was arranged within 2 hours. The alumni association also arranged funds to help fellow alumni, one with 90,000 and the other with 50,000,” said Piyush Ishwar Lanjewar, 29, who completed BTech in Dairy Technology from the institute in 2013.