Thursday, 13 June, 2024

'We called 200 people to find a hospital bed'

Messages advertising oxygen or medicine supplies for Covid patients on social media in India.

By Georgina Rannard, Apr. 27 (BBC): As the second wave of coronavirus devastates India, with more than 350,000 cases reported daily, the families of the sick are desperately hunting on social media for help.

From morning to night, they scour Instagram accounts, drop messages on WhatsApp groups and work through their phone books. They're looking for hospitals beds, oxygen, the Covid drug Remdesivir and plasma.

It's chaotic and overwhelming. A WhatsApp message starts circulating: "Two ICU beds free." Minutes later, they're gone, to be occupied by whoever got there first. Another message: "Urgently needed oxygen concentrator. Please help."

As the health system buckles, it is community, self-help and luck standing between life and death.

But demand is outstripping supply and the sick don't have the luxury of time. When I started this piece on Friday, I spoke to one man looking for oxygen on WhatsApp for his 30-year-old cousin in Uttar Pradesh. By the time I finished it on Sunday, he had died.

Others are exhausted and distressed after days of shouldering the weight of finding life-saving treatment for their loved ones.

"It's 6 am in India and that's when we start the calls. We find out my grandpa's needs for the day - oxygen or injections - and we hit WhatsApp and we call everyone we know," Avani Singh explains.

Avani Singh with her grandfather, 94, who is ill with Covid-19 in Delhi

Her 94-year-old grandfather is extremely ill with Covid-19 in Delhi. From their home in the US, Avani and her mother, Amrita, describe a dizzying web of family, friends, relatives and professional contacts, sometimes many times removed, who helped when he fell ill and quickly deteriorated.

"We were working every contact we know. I was looking on social media - there are pages I follow that say 'so and so confirmed has ICU beds' or 'this place has oxygen' - between us we tried around 200 places," Avani explains.

Eventually, through a school friend, they found a hospital with beds but discovered it had no oxygen. By now, Avani's grandfather was unconscious. "Then I posted a plea on Facebook and a friend knew an emergency room with oxygen - because of that friend my dad survived the night," Amrita explains.