DENVER (CBS4) – Coloradans worried about their family and friends living in India because that country is struggling to control the COVID-19 pandemic have joined a fundraiser run by an international nonprofit to buy much-needed supplies . That week there was an average of more than 350,000 cases a day when Sewa International and its local chapters, including in Colorado, launched a campaign to save lives in India.
“We want to help because if we can stop it where it is, hopefully it won’t spread everywhere and we won’t have it worldwide because it could be a major disaster,” said Dr. Janak Joshi, the President of the Colorado Chapter of Sewa International. “What Sewa International is doing to raise funds and send the delivery. I mean, this is the best we can do right now because we are 10,000 miles away. “
The Hindu-based organization has been helping disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad for nearly two decades. The decision to launch a fund for India after a dramatic increase in cases and deaths raised $ 6 million in less than a week. The organization has also set up vaccination clinics in Colorado that serve minority and other underserved communities.
“Everyone around the world has to be careful because we cannot control this particular virus,” said Ranga Vinjamuri, vice president of the Colorado chapter. “We learned from this second wave in India that everyone around the world should be careful about this.”
Members of the group have lived in Colorado for decades and, whenever possible, visit their families in India. Since the pandemic started, traveling to this country has been challenging and has recently been restricted. Even without the logistical issues, the risk of someone entering overseas with the current spread of the coronavirus has forced families to stay separated. Technology is the only connection they have right now. Families stay in touch by phone, send messages, or make video calls.
“The sad part is that we’re not there for the family,” said Vijayalakshmi Bettadapura. “We feel really helpless, you know, stay so far away from them.”
The money raised by Sewa International will help send around 2,500 oxygen concentrators to India. The organization also has 1,000 local volunteers working with the COVID response in this country. In addition to this equipment, other medical supplies and more doses of COVID vaccines will be needed to stabilize the current crisis.
“I talk to my family a few times a day and try to keep in touch,” Vinjamuri told CBS4 in a video conference call. “A worry that you keep in the back of your mind all the time.”
Members of the South Asian diaspora in Colorado and around the world have been watching India’s response since the pandemic began. A lockdown last year suggested the country had moderate levels of COVID, even registering fewer cases than expected for such a large population. But now the number of cases and deaths is increasing rapidly, with some experts concerned that the official number is only a fraction of the real total.
“This is the problem, when one person gets it, everyone around them gets it,” Joshi said in a videoconference with CBS4.
The current outbreak is likely to be the cause of several factors, including restrictions lifted too soon that allow people to congregate in large groups. This started when only two percent of the country’s population were vaccinated. The lifestyle of many in India also competes with necessary COVID-19 precautions and recommendations, including multi-generational households in smaller spaces. Families in many cities live in high-rise buildings where neighbors cannot keep their distance.
“I hear about death every day, I hear from family members who are developing positively and coming to hospitals every day,” Bettadapura said in a video conference call with CBS4. “Sometimes you know that it is the human touch that is needed and that is what we believe to be deprived here.”
Her uncle is currently hospitalized with COVID, she lost another relative in India to the virus last year. Even access to a hospital bed and oxygen supply is such a challenge for many families. Another setback is visiting their loved ones and helping them as soon as they get medical attention. The risk of developing coronavirus in public is so high that Bettadapura says her loved ones are worried that someone might get infected while visiting a hospital just to get a second dose of a vaccine.
Sewa International’s Colorado Chapter officials want their fellow citizens in the United States to learn from the situation in India and state that this is a warning to countries around the world. They believe the work they do there will have a lasting impact on others, including those closer to their adopted home.
“We are all just one family and we have the whole world as a family,” she said. “The only way we can fight this pandemic is if we come together and help each other.”
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