Alumni group unites to save thousands in Bihar

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He arranged an oxygen cylinder with the help of the volunteers but in just four hours, the cylinder was empty and he needed a refill…reports S. Sharma.

In Bihar, hit hard by the second wave of Covid-19 that has claimed more than 9,500 lives so far, a group of 74 volunteers of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, including doctors, have pitched in to bring medical help for those infected and in critical stages.

The NVS alumni have come together to help those who cannot either find or afford proper medical help. When hospital beds were scarce, the doctors in the group provided consultations over the phone.

For example, a man in Darbhanga district who contracted Covid-19 chose to self-medicate to treat the infection. After around 10 days, when his condition became critical, his panick-stricken wife, who was in the ninth month of pregnancy, sought the help of Lakhisarai’s Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Amritesh Kumar, who happens to be a member of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Covid Helpline (JNVCH).

He arranged an oxygen cylinder with the help of the volunteers but in just four hours, the cylinder was empty and he needed a refill. Meanwhile, the patient’s health continued to deteriorate. The volunteers then helped hospitalise the man. As his health was sinking, he was put on a ventilator and needed Remdesivir injections and blood plasma. The JNVCH team made tremendous effort and arranged all required medicines and plasma donors for the man, saving his life.

Later, when the couple shared with the JNVCH volunteers a photograph of their newborn girl, Kumar said, “I felt as if she was my own daughter, and I thanked God for being able to help save her father’s life.”

Another beneficiary of the JNVCH’s services is an 84-old-year man in the Begusarai district, whose condition became critical after he contracted the virus. With only a 35 per cent heart function, the volunteers took him to several hospitals, but he was continually denied admission. The volunteers later managed to stabilise his condition through home isolation and teleconsultation with Dr Sumit Verma, a JNVCH volunteer who is serving at a hospital in Jaipur.

Band of saviours

The JNVCH is a 74-member group of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya alumni founded on April 19, 2021, by Ranjan Jha after his colleague Muchkund Kumar Monu died of COVID-19 infection. The group has members from various walks of life — 40 of them are doctors and others include government officials, journalists and social workers. The team, which has sworn to do everything possible to prevent COVID-19 deaths for want of medical help, has so far saved more than 1,000 lives.

A majority of these doctors serve in the COVID-19 wards of hospitals within and outside Bihar. They contribute to the group’s efforts by way of providing remote consultation — analysing blood oxygen levels and severity of symptoms and advising the course of treatment. The volunteers help the patients by arranging oxygen cylinders, medicines and food. The group makes all this possible through the team’s Facebook page and WhatsApp group.

Jha said the group has so far helped more than 5,000 COVID-19 infected persons. According to him, more than 2000 of these people were in critical condition and were provided round-the-clock medical help and tele-counselling by the group’s doctors.

Santosh Kumar Pandey, a JNVCH volunteer at Bihiya in Bhojpur district, said that he has so far distributed more than 2,000 kits containing medicines that were collected from various sources. “Several members of our team, including the doctors, have been working without sleep since the second wave started in Bihar. We are sourcing oxygen cylinders, distributing medicines and food packets for the affected people,” he said. Often many of these were in shortage but it helped that the volunteers had a number of doctors and government officials among them.

Dr Harimohan Singh, another volunteer and a medical officer in the COVID-19 ward at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), said, “I lost my grandmother for want of proper medical assistance. My aunt was also in a critical condition but survived. Since then, I have decided to do everything I can to help people who approach me. I receive 100 to 150 calls in a day many of them seeking help in critical stages. I have helped about 85 per cent of these patients recover in their homes.”

Senior Resident Medical Officer Dr Rajeev Kumar of Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna, said, “I sometimes receive calls as early as 4 am. Most of these people are so panicked that I have to calm them down before giving medical advice.” The questions are usually the same – about managing cold, cough, fever, oxygen saturation, etc. The first thing the doctors do is check the level of infection, oxygen levels, etc and then they check their medication and prescribe new ones, if needed.

“I follow up the cases by constantly monitoring the patients’ condition through WhatsApp even when I am on duty. Whenever I become free, I call each of them,” said Dr Abhijeet of Nalanda Medical College and Hospital, Patna.

How they work

Members of the JNVCH said they spread the word about their services through word of mouth as well as their Facebook page and WhatsApp group. When a person contacts the group for help, the details are shared on the WhatsApp group of the volunteering doctors and one of them would take up the case and follow it up for a minimum of 15 days. Since the establishment of JNVCH, each doctor has helped at least 100 COVID-19 infected persons.

According to data shared by the group, out of the 5,000 plus calls the volunteers have so far received, 40 per cent were seeking help for people in critical stages. Whereas 75 per cent of these calls came from cities, only the rest 25 per cent were from people living in rural areas. Of the total cases, 99 per cent were treated under home isolation.

The JNVCH is now preparing for a third possible wave of infections with more focus on rural areas that lack medical facilities. It has already started training 20 to 30 volunteers at district as well as block levels in Begusarai. Jha said JNV alumni, Dr Amit Priyadarshini from AIIMS Delhi, Dr Pragati Sharma from Kolkata and Dr Harimohan Singh from PMCH are imparting the training. “We are organising webinars to train volunteers on essential treatment methods such as checking blood oxygen levels, installing and replacing oxygen cylinders, breathing exercises for patients and administration of medicines,” he said, adding that the group’s members are also in contact with local authorities to ensure enough supply of oxygen cylinders.

(The author is a Patna-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots)