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Atlanta Indian-Americans mobilize support to battle India’s covid crisis

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, May 20, 2021: Fighting a devasting second wave of Covid-19 that has ravaged hospitals and communities across the nation, Indian families are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe amid an overwhelmed health care system with medical workers stretched thin and some hospitals running out of oxygen and supplies.

India first detected the B.1.617 variant, the “double mutant” in October last year. The variant has since been reported in at least 17 countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Singapore.

Confirmed cases rise at alarming rates, with India reporting 412,000 new cases, as of May 6, 2021, more than any country in the world ever. To date, only 2.1% of India’s 1.4 billion people are fully vaccinated.

Recognizing the need of the hour, several Atlanta-based Indian American organizations, individuals, foundations and companies have gathered together, creating a group to collectively exchange information such as procuring O2 concentrators to Indian specifications, shipping details, among other challenging areas of sending aid to India. NRI Pulse recognizes these humanitarian acts in our series, Giving, Dil Se in the times of COVID-19.

Rev. Jesse Jackson (center) with members of Atlanta Indian American community organizations.

“The Coronavirus knows no racial or economic boundaries. The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India is astounding which is why we are expanding our call for international emergency help,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson who was in Atlanta on May 15, 2021. In an effort to expand his call for additional emergency vaccines and equipment to India, Rev. Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition hosted a press conference at the Global Mall with several Indian American organizations including AAMEP,  AAPI, ATMA, AKMG, UNICEF, APG, TANA, TATA,  TAMA, IACA, IFA, AMEC, GATA, Rotary Club Of Emory Druid Hills, ATA, GATS, Accesslife America, IABC, SEWA International, ITServe Alliance, BAGA, Gandhi Foundation, Atlanta, GSA, RAJA, Heartfulness, GAPS etc.

“It is everyone’s duty to help India flatten this #COVID19 surge as we live in a world that cannot be separated by borders,” said Dr. Vijay Prabhakar, urging President Biden to send vaccines to India and the world. On May 1, 2021 the President announced that 80 million vaccine doses will be sent overseas in the next few weeks.  

The event was hosted by Dr. Vijay Prabhakar, moderated by Dr. Kalai Chellam, and had closing remarks by Rina Gupta. The luncheon was hosted by 27th Investments, venue by Global Mall, and event management by Mustafa Ajmeri.

UNICEF has currently pledged 659 million for Global COVID pandemic relief work. UNICEF India projects providing 50 hospitals that have a 500 bed capacity, Oxygen generating machines on site (20 year life span) at a cost of 180k each. UNICEF is in the process of procuring 200 PCR RT machines that will provide rapid COVID ( TB , HIV , Strep, HPV) testing at a cost of 25 k each. “In 2021 UNICEF will deliver 2 billion vaccines worldwide. It’s fundraising campaigns and partners include Corporate and Government agencies as well as generous individual donors and Trust Funds,” noted Atlanta’s Dr. Gulshan Harjee, who serves on the advisory board of UNICEF’s Campaign USA. 

Vibha, a non-profit, that serves underprivileged children joined hands with Chef Vikas Khanna to rise up to the occasion with immediate deployment of over $600,000 for COVID relief efforts, working with 40+ hospitals, healthcare facilities and trusted partner organizations in India. As of May 6, 2021, through their efforts, they have disbursed $600K for COVID relief, procured 850 oxygen concentrators, with first batch distributed to Ambedkarnagar (UP), Meerut (UP), Srungavarapukota (AP), Beed (Maharashtra), Bengaluru (Karnataka), Beawar (Rajasthan), partnered with Texas Instruments and Govt. of Karnataka to set up a 100-bed modular hospital in Bengaluru. Procurement of Medical Supplies (PPE, Masks, Gloves etc.) are in progress and Vaccination clinics are in planning.

CARE International has worked in India for 70 years to alleviate poverty and social exclusion.

“CARE is working around the clock, in partnership with the government, to set up at least 30 COVID-19 care centers in seven highly-impacted states to protect seriously ill people, while also addressing vaccine hesitancy and helping ensure that people get vaccinated, particularly in remote, marginalized communities,” said Madhu Deshmukh, VP, Care USA.

CARE is providing oxygen and other essential supplies to hospitals in Delhi, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal, working to set up at least 10 oxygen plants to increase supply in those states. CARE is also providing 2,500 oxygen concentrators and 2,500 Bipap machines.

In Bihar, CARE opened two COVID-19 care centers in Patna – one center with 110 beds that serves as a field hospital at Patliputra Indoor Stadium and the other as a 120-bed COVID-19 wing at ESIC Medical College. CARE is in the process of opening five more facilities in other highly populated districts in the next two weeks. In Uttar Pradesh, CARE will open a 255-bed facility in Lucknow, the state capital, with two other facilities planned for next week in the cities of Varanasi and Barabanki. CARE also is gearing up to open COVID-19 care centers in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, where there is great need for high-throughput COVID-19 facilities for serious cases that require oxygenation, regular monitoring and testing.

American Telugu Association (ATA) has procured 600 oxygen concentrators and shipped 390, distributed in Telangana and AP. The remaining 210 will be shipped on 25th of May. ATA is also shipping 2000 oxygen flow meters to Telangana and AP. “

ATA will establish a 60 bed ATA Shwasha Health Center equipped with oxygen cylinders and concentrators, tied up with government hospitals,” said Anil Boddireddy, Board of Trustees, ATA. The facility will house those in need of oxygen, especially during the recovery phase. Boddireddy said ATA will talk to ministers and district commissioners in Telangana to better understand the need of the state and send in help as per requirements.

Heartfulness has raised $500 K including FB and other avenues to provide medical assistance to all those in need in India. Heartfulness is importing and providing essential kits & medical equipment, with volunteers coordinating access to hospital beds, ICUs, Oxygen Concentrators and essential supplies, along with access to hygienic food to those in isolation and their families. Medical Services have started in all the states with several volunteers and Doctor communities, serving multiple regional languages. This service will slowly be extended to other organizations in a systematic manner to aid a wider audience. Heartfulness will also be releasing a mobile app which will allow anyone looking for medical help to get assistance from available doctors worldwide 24/7

AKMG (Association of Kerala Medical Graduates) Humanitarian Services has raised $175K, with a goal of $200K. International charity organization GLOBALMEDIC has entered into an agreement with AKMG (https://globalmedic.ca/) to match their donations with $100,000 worth of PPE equipment.After an extensive assessment of the situation we have arrived at a conclusion that supplying adequate high quality protective equipment is the need of the hour in Kerala,” said Atlanta’s Dr. Subrahmanya Bhat, President, AKMG. Adequate PPE, AKMG officials believe will ensure the safety of health care workers and the public thereby preventing continued transmission of the virus.

The Subra, Anu and Kiran Bhat Foundation has donated $50,000 to various organizations working towards helping India.

“When COVID-19 horrors in India worsened in intensity, we knew we had no time to lose. Our objective is to deliver relief and aid to the victims and bring an end to the sufferings inflicted by the pandemic,” said Pramod Sajja, CEO & President, Paramount Software Solutions. Sajja dedicated his biennial fundraiser Paramount Gives to raise funds for Sewa International, matching employee donations of over $100, raising $40,000 for the cause.  

“We are unable to help these victims in person, but we want to help them in this way”, said Srinivasa Raghavan, who donated $2500.  Vidyasagar Mandarapu who fought Covid-19 twice contributed $1000. Donations poured in from Palak Mehta, Jim Mason, Chidananda, Mrunalini, Chandra, Luv Arora and many more. 8-year-old Janaki donated $75 from her piggy bank, spurring her mother to make it a 10x match from her side.

Losses and pain were personal for many, including Paramount employee Rakesh who lost his life to the pandemic and Bob, who struggled to share the loss of his mother, while his father is in critical condition. As Arun Kankani, National President, Sewa International noted, “It is not just about oxygen, for India this is going to be a very, very long battle.”

“The moment we heard about the first news of Covid wave 2 outbreak in India, we sprang into action and started working under the leadership of our board to work on multiple fronts,” said Avijit Saha, President, Bengali Association of Greater Atlanta (BAGA). The BAGA Youth Committee reached out personally to all members and friends explaining the purpose with request for their donations. Board worked on approvals to release emergency donation from their rainy-day fund.

With a focus to provide covid relief to people of Bengal and nearby region within a very short span of time, BAGA partnered with various organizations that provide various type of covid relief across eastern region. BAGA shipped 6 oxygen concentrators to West Bengal within the first 3 days. Within the next 7 days BAGA raised sufficient funds to donate to other initiatives for buying medical equipment and PPE kits and setting up 25 bed covid hospital in rural Bengal. “We are encouraging other organizations and individuals to donate generously to the various NGOs who are working on covid relief. Thankfully the covid situation in India is showing an improving trend. Next, we plan to support vaccination efforts across India if there is an opportunity to help on that front,” said Saha.

27th Investments has donated $75,000 to various organizations and has pledged an additional $25,000.

Indian Friends of Atlanta (IFA) procured 480 oxygen concentrators to be shipped to India.” After this procurement and long discussion with government authorities, I am confident that we can support the needy without a middleman. Please reach out to all possible sponsors and donors to come forward and support this noble cause. This is our people and country needs our help,” said Sunil Savili, founder, IFA 

Telugu Association of North America (TANA) procured 280 Oxygen Concentrators that were shipped to Hyderabad via UPS for free. “We are trying to procure more quality ones through more reliable sources,” said Srinivas Lavu, Director, TANA

PAN IIT USA, has shipped 150 Oxygen Concentrators to India.

India American Cultural Association (IACA) raised $11,500 from members and supporters in Atlanta. “Most of the members donated to other charities. We may pool our collections and contribute towards multiple medical needs and different geographical locations in India,” said Chand Akkineni, President IACA.

Dhoop Chaoon, Atlanta based theatre group with 80 permanent members raised $1200, which was donated to IFA.” As a performing Art group, it is our duty to create a positive atmosphere, we are preparing small acts, keeping CDC guidelines. In this hard time, we are joining hands with the Atlanta community in the donation drive,” said Sandhya Bhagat, founder of Dhoop Chaoon.

With 25,496,330 cases, and 283,276 deaths, India still reported 21,986,363 recoveries as of May 19, 2021. These recoveries are but a summation of selfless service by physicians, healthcare workers, janitors, people and organizations that relentlessly endure to serve, answering to a higher call, as Dr. Martin Luther King put it Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others? 

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