Indians beg for help on social media as brutal pandemic wave batters health system

The country records more than 250,000 daily new cases this week

epa09149942 An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling center in Bangalore, India, 21 April 2021. There is a shortage of oxygen cylinders in certain COVID-19 affected areas but the Karnataka state government has said that it will do its best to make sure the distribution of liquid medical oxygen is smooth and there will be no shortage.  EPA/JAGADEESH NV
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Indians are taking to social media to beg for hospital beds, oxygen and medicine for sick relatives as hospitals buckle under a coronavirus surge.

The country has now registered more than 15.6 million coronavirus cases and 181,000 deaths. After strict lockdowns brought the spread of the pandemic under control, cases began to rise again in March, topping over 250,000 new cases daily this week.

As authorities and hospitals struggle to deal with the deluge of new patients every day, families are making frantic appeals on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and even dating app Tinder to amplify their pleas for plasma donors, medicines, hospital beds and oxygen.

“We found a plasma match for our friend through Tinder,” wrote Sohini Chattopadhyay on Twitter after finding a donor on the dating app.

“Dating app 1, govt 0.” she wrote.

Anger is brewing against the government as it appeared to be caught off guard by the wave of infections. India recorded and an all time-high of 295,041 cases and records death of 2,023 on Wednesday.

Makeshift hospitals have been set-up in schools, auditoriums, religious institutions and even train compartments to deal with the catastrophic numbers amid new lockdowns across several states and cities.

Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday said the city's healthcare system had reached its limit while announcing a week-long lockdown in the national capital.

Mumbai doctor's emotional Covid plea goes viral

Mumbai doctor's emotional Covid plea goes viral

As on Wednesday, there were less than 30 intensive care beds available out of the total 4,650 beds in the city of 20 million residents that has recorded more than 25,000 cases every day this week.

The unprecedented surge in cases has also led to the shortage of most critical medicines for treating Covid-19, triggering clandestine sales at inflated prices.

Police have arrested dozens of people for selling, stealing and making counterfeit Remdesivir injections, a high-demand anti-viral drug.

Oxygen cylinders are selling for three times the actual cost in black markets across several parts of the country as desperate families procure the life-saving commodity for home treatment as hospitals struggle to meet the huge demand.

“I just want to say I’ve never seen anything like India Covid Twitter over the last few days," said Twitter user Christopher Clary, an assistant Professor of Political Science at University at Albany.

“Countless people struggling to find help, and turning to social media because regular channels aren’t working.”

Thousands of posts from anxious relatives and friends with details and pictures of their sick patients have flooded social media asking for leads and information on the availability of medicines and plasma donors. Influential Twitter users, including politicians, journalists and celebrities, amplify calls for assistance.

Words like #plasma, #remdesivir and #oxygen have been trending for more than two weeks on Twitter now.

“Need A+ blood donors urgently at Dombivilli, Mumbai- must have completed 28 days after recovery from Covid for my aunt who’s critical and on ventilator,” wrote Shasvati Siva on Twitter.

As requests flood in, several social media accounts have been created to consolidate lists and provide updates to donors.

Ketan Chouthkanthiwar and his friend Saneeka Vaidya – both 21 and 2nd year medical students from Mumbai – created Plasma Donors Mumbai, a platform on Instagram, last week to connect donors and desperate families.

So far, they have succeeded in helping 35 people find plasma but demand has increased manifold in recent days.

"We receive 20-25 requests every day but we are only able to help 7-8 people. There is a backlog. People want to donate but there are several do's and don'ts so it is not always easy to find a match. The demand for plasma is only increasing with each passing day," Mr Chouthkanthiwar told The National.

Twitter account Blood Donors India @BloodDonorsIn with 1.2 million followers has been inundated with requests for plasma donors from users across the country.

“In last 6 days, We have received more than 7,500 + requests for #Plasma & still working on it,” it said.

Srinivas B V, an opposition Congress politician with more than 310,000 followers on Twitter, claims 20,000 people were able to find hospital beds, medicines and oxygen over the past weeks through his initiative.

Community groups and activists have also sprung into action and have launched initiatives to provide medicine and door-to-door food to families who are infected and cannot cook or arrange meals.

“Really feel debited to the efforts of strangers on social media who are putting efforts to help those in need in such difficult times,” Twitter user Ragvendra wrote after he found a hospital bed for his father in Bhopal through a crowd-sourcing initiative.