Calgary doctors using social media apps and fundraising to help India in battle against COVID

A group of doctors, nurses and lawyers in Calgary is rallying to help India’s collapsing health-care system and its COVID-19 patients, who are facing a crisis in that country.

The country has now surpassed 20 million COVID-19 cases but it’s thought the true caseload could be much higher. People are unable to access consultations with doctors as well as hospital beds when they become seriously ill.

Calgary physician Bhavini Gohel, who is a doctor at the South Health Campus, is taking consultations via WhatsApp with patients in India who can’t access help there.

She is also helping to raise money for medical equipment, such as vital signs monitors, medications, IV supplies, stethoscopes and COVID testing equipment, which are in short supply in India.

“Things are pretty dire and the system has essentially collapsed,” said Gohel. “The cases have risen exponentially, and the numbers aren’t a true reflection of the situation.”

Crematoriums are overwhelmed with mass funeral pyres burning around the clock. Many cities are running out of space to bury or cremate bodies.

“Speaking to physicians there, they are exhausted, working 24/7 and running low on everything, and they’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

Dr Bhavini Gohel is a physician at Calgary’s South Health Campus. She’s part of a group of doctors, nurses and lawyers helping COVID-19 patients in India. (Submitted by Bhavini Gohel)

Gohel is chair of the medical advisory board for the Child Foundation charity in Calgary. She has family in Delhi and Gujarat, and is also involved in supporting the Maya Devi children’s hospital in India through the foundation.

She says oxygen, medications, supplies and physicians are all hard to find in India. She says families with members who have COVID are having to call hospitals to try to find a bed, which can be several hours away, and not all of them have ICU facilities.

“We can send medical supplies and are working on sending oxygen concentrators and medication like steroids and inhalers. They also lack manpower, so there’s limited ability for families to see physicians,” said Gohel.

Gohel says some families panic and try get to a hospital too early when they could be managed better at home.

Doctors are creating a cohort of Calgary physicians who can do virtual consultations with patients from their homes.

“I’ve been doing them in the evenings and in the morning when I’m free,” said Gohel. “It provides reassurance and troubleshooting for families.”

She’s connected with patients via word of mouth on the ground there. Her goal is to create an outreach program with nurses and field hospitals in India.

The Child Foundation aims to outfit a rural hospital with respirators and supplies to enable access to critical care that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

“We’ve also been supporting patients in hospital there around decisions like when to send a loved one to ICU and when to look for an ICU bed,” she said.

Gohel says the popularity of WhatsApp in India means that’s how they’ve been doing consultations so far, but her group is looking at a more suitable platform in the future.

A man waits outside a factory to get his oxygen cylinder refilled, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in New Delhi, India. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

“A platform where we can have a record keeping system because as we get bigger with more physicians, we’re going to need a private medical record system.”

Gohel says she has worked in India and understands the cultural sensitivities and aspects of care that apply in cities and rural communities.

She is busy recruiting more help and raising more money, sending out a call to help on behalf of the Child Foundation using social media with some help from the Calgary Rotary Club.

“We need resources fast. Right now, we need to get everything moving quickly, and we’re meeting every two days,” she said.

Gohel says she doesn’t think the cities have reached their peak and more cases could spread to rural communities. She describes that scenario as a potential “tsunami.”

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