On Saturday alone, more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in one day in India. India’s healthcare system is experiencing severe shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and medication, leaving Indians to turn to social media to request simple supplies.
Professor of biostatistics Bhramar Mukherjee has been actively involved with modeling COVID-19 metrics since March 2020. Mukherjee predicted on February 27, 2021 that a second wave was coming in India and called for the public and policy makers to continue to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. Critics say that India was unprepared for this second-wave referencing the lack of supplies and public compliance.
Mukherjee is one of many in the University of Michigan community expressing support and concern for the deadly situation in India.
Rackham student Maxwell Salvatore was part of the team that built the COV-IND shiny app. The app uses publicly available data and other metrics to make prediction models.
Salvatore predicts the peak of the second wave will come in mid-May, at which point there will be 500,000 new cases each day.
“We think that the actual number of cases might be 10 to 14 times the reported numbers,” Salvatore said. “These numbers are people, and the pictures and videos that are coming out are devastating and calls for the coming together of the global community.”
On April 27, University President Mark Schlissel released a statement expressing empathy and solidarity for those affected by the crisis. The statement encouraged community members to donate to the American India Foundation’s COVID response fund and listed other resources.
“India has long been one of our most cherished international partners in education and research. About 1,000 of our current students and 6,000 alumni hail from India,” Schlissel said. “The U.S. government has pledged to help, and we urge immediate and meaningful action. We are sharing our expertise with elected leaders to advise on how to best provide assistance.”
The U-M India Advisory Board, along with the U-M India Alumni Association, has led various initiatives to share medical and public health expertise with India.
Student groups across campus, including the South Asian American Health Initiative (SAAHI), South Asian Awareness Network (SAAN), Indian Student Association (ISA) and Project RISHI have collaborated to raise money for the Breathe India Fundraiser, which aims to provide oxygen concentrators to hospitals in Delhi, a COVID-19 hotspot. SAAHI has said they have raised $1,103 as of Sunday.
Public Health junior Nithya Arun, SAAHI executive director and Central Student Government President, started the initiative to alleviate the severe oxygen shortage in the country. Arun’s grandmother lives in New Delhi and has hypertension, which occasionally requires an oxygen tank.
“(My grandmother) is doing fine, but there are so many people who do not have oxygen right now because of how badly this crisis was managed,” Arun said. “These incidents of COVID were preventable, (and) the Indian government could have taken action before it got this bad. Unfortunately, they put their own interests ahead of the well-being of the people.”
LSA junior Mishaal Yazdani, incoming co-director for SAAN, said the virus has taken its toll on developing countries like India. Yazdani encouraged the United States to share its resources with other countries who need it.
“I’m from Pakistan, but we are all one community at the end of the day, one human population,” Yazdani said. “It’s really important that we are trying our best, donating and spreading awareness about this crisis.”
There has been growing concern over President Joe Biden’s plans to help vaccinate the rest of the world. Biden has pledged to send protective equipment and oxygen to India, in addition to providing the country with doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine once it is safe to do so.
Chair of Radiology Vikas Gulani is part of Health4theWorld, an organization founded by Dr. Bhavya Rehani that aims to provide basic healthcare services worldwide.
Gulani and a team of physicians across the U.S. and India collaborated on multiple projects to ease the burden on the healthcare system in India. One of their main efforts is to send oxygen concentrators to hospitals in India. Other projects aim to provide services such as palliative care, grief counseling and telemedicine. The team also sent healthcare kits with masks, vitamins, pharmaceuticals and pulse oximeters to Indians at home.
“The goal was to provide people with some way of taking care of themselves at home if they’re sick, so as to not overburden the hospitals,” Gulani said. “Every single bit of our work has been a labor of love and people donating their time.”
Gulani said they decided to partner with organizations in India that prioritize transparency and accountability to ensure every dollar donated directly impacts patients and physicians in India. The team’s fundraiser has raised $52,968 of its $100,000 goal at the time of publishing.
Chief of Hospital Medicine Vineet Chopra and Krishnan Raghavendran, Director of the U-M Center for Global Surgery, are part of India COVID SOS, a group of physicians, scientists and policy makers from across the U.S. providing home care resources, medication and equipment to people in India.
Chopra called on the U-M community to come together and check in on friends and family in India. He stressed how people and countries are all interconnected, pointing to the fact that the Indian variant, B.1.617, has been reported in Clinton County, Michigan.
“There is no such thing as a pandemic in one part of the world,” Chopra said. “What happens in India could affect us (in the United States), it’s really important.”
Gulani said he is concerned that uncontrolled spread of the virus could create a variant resistant to our current vaccinations.
“This virus is gonna jump back and forth and if we let it engineer itself to be resistant, that is a really big worldwide problem,” Gulani said.
Raghavendran stressed how advocacy and fundraising is not a one-person job, saying collective action is absolutely necessary to help India.
“I pray for the people of India, (and) I encourage everyone to help them out in whatever way possible,” Raghavendran said. “Everything counts. Even the smallest amount helps. If you even help one life, it is worth it.”
Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been updated to include additional information about Health4theWorld’s mission.