Her review review completed, schoolgirl Swadha Prasad continues her real job of finding oxygen, medicine and hospital beds for Covid-19 patients as India recovers from brutal second wave of infections.
As their government struggles to fight the pandemic, young Indians have stepped into the breach, creating apps to collect aid, providing key supplies, and using social media to direct resources to people in the world. need.
Prasad works with dozens of volunteers – all between the ages of 14 and 19 – as part of the youth-led organization UNCUT, creating online databases filled with information about medical resources available across the country.
It is a 24/7 operation with teens constantly on their phones as they check the availability of supplies, update real-time information and field calls from frantic parents.
“Some of us do shifts from midnight to the morning, because the calls don’t end at 3 a.m.,” said Prasad, 17, who works 2 p.m. before noon until one o’clock in the morning.
It’s a long and often tiring affair, said the Mumbai-based student, but added, “If I can help save a life, there’s no part of me that is going to say no. “
And lives have been saved, she said, highlighting a case where the team was able to deliver oxygen to a young Covid-19 patient in the middle of the night after an agonizing two-hour wait.
“It’s not just about providing resources… sometimes people just need to know they’re not alone,” she said.
– ‘Oxygen man’ –
With two-thirds of its 1.3 billion people under the age of 35, India is an extremely young country, but its youth have never been called upon to shoulder such enormous responsibilities.
As the Indian pandemic has grown increasingly dystopian – with crematoria running out of space and patients, including a former ambassador, dying in hospital parking lots – many have volunteered en masse.
In the slums of Mumbai, Shanawaz Shaikh provided free oxygen to thousands of people.
Popularly known as the ‘man of oxygen’, the 32-year-old sold his beloved SUV last June to fund the initiative after his friend’s pregnant cousin died in a rickshaw as she was trying to be admitted to the hospital.
“She died because she couldn’t get oxygen in time,” he told AFP.
He never expected to meet so many requests almost a year later.
“We used to get about 40 calls a day last year, now it’s over 500,” he says.
Shaikh’s team of 20 volunteers are also facing a massive shortage, made worse by profiteers.
“It’s a test of faith,” he said, describing how he sometimes travels tens of kilometers (miles) to provide oxygen to desperate patients.
“But when I can help someone, I feel like crying. “
– Overwhelmed volunteers –
While big cities have been hit the hardest so far, the limits of the technology are becoming apparent as the virus penetrates into small towns and villages, software engineer Umang Galaiya told AFP. .
Urgent requests for additional hospital supplies and beds have fostered a flood of leads on Twitter – many of which have not been confirmed.
Galaiya responded by creating an app to make it easier for users to find what they were looking for and, most importantly, limit their search to verified resources only.
But even so, its app is unlikely to help people outside major cities, the 25-year-old said, citing the example of his hometown in the hard-hit state of Gujarat, where the use Internet is weak.
“If I’m looking for resources in Jamnagar, there’s nothing on Twitter,” he said.
Ultimately, the pandemic cannot be beaten without the government, he added, describing simple measures that could have saved many lives.
For example, officials could have created a real-time, automatically updated online bed registry to spare patients in distress the hassle of moving from one crowded facility to another.
“If we can do it for theaters, to avoid overbooking, why can’t we do it for hospitals? ” He asked.
The youth’s efforts were also not viable, the Bangalore-based technician said, stressing that overwhelmed volunteers would likely run out of energy as the virus ravaged their cities.
The trauma of dealing with illness and death on a daily basis is already beginning to manifest itself.
“We are working very hard but we cannot save everyone,” Prasad, a teenage girl from Bombay, said, her voice shaking as she recalled the efforts to help a deceased 80-year-old woman.
Although they take breaks and organize Zoom movie watching sessions to try and relax, the stress never goes away completely.
“My parents are worried about it,” she said.
“But when their friends need help, they turn to me too. “
© 2021 AFP