Edmontonians use social media to help in India's COVID-19 crisis

·2 min read
Varinder Bhullar, left, with his father during a previous trip to India. Bhullar is using his social media presence to deliver important information to people in the country, which is currently in the grips of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. (Submitted by Varinder Bhullar - image credit)
Varinder Bhullar, left, with his father during a previous trip to India. Bhullar is using his social media presence to deliver important information to people in the country, which is currently in the grips of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. (Submitted by Varinder Bhullar - image credit)

As India weathers a devastating second wave, some Edmontonians are doing what they can to help from afar.

The country is suffering through a major surge of COVID-19 with an average of more than 300,000 new cases of the disease reported each day.

Reports describe overloaded hospitals and a medical system struggling to find enough oxygen to aid the sick.

"I wake up in the morning and my phone is filled with messages from family members and friends," Shikha Batra said in an interview on Wednesday with CBC's Radio Active.

Batra lives in Edmonton, but much of her extended family is in India. She's among those in Canada working to connect people with resources virtually through online groups and messaging apps.

It might be finding a source of remdesivir, an antiviral medication, or using contacts to connect people with doctors and pharmaceutical organizations in India.

"There seems to be a shortage of all the drugs and the medicines that are needed for survival at this point," Batra said.

Some people have taken advantage of the situation to sell treatments at exuberant prices, she said, with a dose of remdesivir typically costing 800 to 900 rupees going for 50,000 or 60,000.

There is also a flood of information online claiming drugs and medications are available, Batra said. She has taken to calling numbers listed on these websites to confirm their authenticity. If she finds a genuine resource, she'll share that through her social media channels.

"We're just helpless here," she said. "That's the maximum we can do sitting miles away."

Varinder Bhullar is using his social media presence to amplify pertinent COVID-19 information for those in his home country.

"This is probably one of the times when social media is turning to help people," he said.

Bhullar said much of the grassroots efforts overseas begin with immediate family and grow into larger networks through interconnected communities.

Besides helping find much-needed medication and vaccines, he said there's also a need to combat misinformation by picking up the phone and calling relatives.

"This is not the time to participate in the huge political rallies. This is not the time to go into the big festival. This is not the time to go into big gatherings.

"This is the time to stay at your home."

Bhullar said the miles make no difference in the need to do something.

"Saving lives and helping people is something that's very important," he said. "When it comes to human life and human rights, there are no boundaries."

Meanwhile, Batra says political or religious differences should play no part in the drive to stave off the crisis.

"I think it's the time for all of us to come together all over the world."