Fighting COVID's second wave | May 21, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 21, 2021

Fighting COVID's second wave

Palo Alto couple with family and colleagues in India is battling on their behalf

by Lloyd Lee

At the peak of India's second COVID-19 wave in the beginning of May, the country set a world record by reporting more than 400,000 daily new cases, while experts cautioned that, even then, cases were going severely underreported. The number of daily deaths exploded from 91 on March 1, when it seemed like the country had a hold on the virus, to 4,329 on May 17.

Neighboring countries have since had to brace for the reverberations of India's health crisis — some banning travel to the country while others that depended on Indian-manufactured vaccines are now being forced to turn elsewhere.

Kanika and Rohit Mediratta were 8,000 miles away in Palo Alto when they heard about the unfolding crisis that was severely burdening India's health care infrastructure around mid-April.

Rohit's brother, who is a neurosurgeon at a prominent hospital in Delhi, one of the epicenters of India's second wave, was telling the Medirattas that all admissions had stopped and his hospital could only conduct life-saving emergency surgeries. All the beds were taken, and no oxygen was available, he told them.

"That got us worried about what was happening there and we wanted to do something and make a difference if we could," Kanika said.

The Medirattas sprang into action.

On April 21, the Palo Alto couple began a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe and their own website at covidreliefindia.com. The goal: raise as much money as they can to buy as many oxygen concentrators for COVID-19 patients in India.

As the Medirattas learned in the first week of the campaign, however, doing so as full-time employees with two kids and coordinating with India's time zone, which is 12.5 ahead of Pacific time, wasn't an easy endeavor.

"A lot of our work starts around 9 o'clock at night, when people in India come online, and we'll work until 2 or 3 in the morning," Kanika said. "Then we get up around 6:30 a.m. to try and finish as much as we can with the fundraiser before we start our work."

Finding a source of oxygen concentrators, which functions similar to an oxygen tank, was another hurdle.

"There aren't that many manufacturing facilities that produce oxygen concentrators," Kanika said. "And there aren't that many that produce those units at hospital grade."

Initially, even when Kanika was able to find a source of oxygen concentrators, the units were only useful for patients who had low to moderate cases of pneumonia. But as patients enter critical care, they'll need a higher saturation of oxygen — and the number of suppliers that provide that type of oxygen concentrator, and ones certified from accredited agencies, goes down significantly.

Then, there were the logistical challenges. One unit of an oxygen concentrator weighs anywhere from 35 to 40 pounds. Its weight makes the units considered "dangerous medical goods," Kanika said.

"So just figuring out how to have a supplier who deals with shipment of dangerous medical goods and has that clearance from customs — it took us a couple of days to sort through," she said.

That's where SaveLife foundation, a nonprofit based in New Delhi that focuses on medical care, and Sanrai International, a medical equipment supplier, came in. While SaveLife was the beneficiary of the GoFundMe campaign, Sanrai was not only able to help with the source of oxygen concentrators, but it also became the receiving entity in India, working with the Delhi government, to make sure the units were procured and distributed to the necessary locations.

With them, the Medirattas' campaign established a supply chain. By April 26, 224 units of oxygen concentrators had been placed. Over 100 units arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on May 1, and 140 oxygen concentrators were finally deployed at a field hospital within the city on May 4.

The GoFundMe campaign has raised $553,049. As of May 18, the funds helped order 574 units of oxygen concentrators for Delhi, 300 oxygen cylinders for Karnataka, a state in southwest India, and 40 ventilators for ICU units in Delhi. Another $120,000 was directly donated to Save Life.

On Tuesday morning, one of Rohit's colleagues sent an email to the Medirattas about how a family member in India, sent to the hospital, was able to use an oxygen concentrator that directly came from their fundraising efforts.

Rohit and Kanika have also both lost colleagues in India to COVID-19, making their fight personal.

In addition, two weeks ago, in the midst of her fundraising work, Kanika's parents, who live in Delhi, were infected with the virus. Even though her parents were vaccinated, they were still weakened and had to be put on oxygen while at home. Their condition has since stabilized.

"I got to a point where I broke a little bit and took some time off from work just to be able to balance the fundraiser, plus all the stress of having senior parents in India without a lot of help, to manage," Kanika said.

But help was coming from all over her community and the world, including people from the U.K., Switzerland and Australia. Friends from high school, whom the Medirattas had not been in contact with, also contributed to the campaign.

"I've been very humbled by the support I've gotten from the community," Kanika said.

The country as a whole is beginning to see the other side of the second wave's peak. But the crisis is not quite over.

Today, the country still accounts for more than half of the global COVID-19 daily cases. On May 17, the country reported 263,533 cases. And while Delhi is stabilizing, Kanika said the same sort of battle that happened in Delhi with the lack of space in medical facilities and oxygen supplies is starting to unfold in more rural areas of the country, where resources are much more scarce.

"We've kind of shifted focus from Delhi to other areas in India because it's no longer just a Delhi or (Mumbai) problem," Kanika said. "And it's becoming much harder because a lot of the rural areas, in some places, you don't have a reliable source of electricity."

The couple increased the fundraising target of their GoFundMe campaign, which can be found at gofund.me/cec0b4ff, to $750,000 on May 8. Kanika said she and her husband had discussed whether they should stop their outreach efforts once they met their fundraising goals.

"There's still a need," Kanika said. "And while there's a need, if we know we can raise funds to be able to procure other medical supplies for other parts of the country, we feel it's our responsibility to do that and continue to push forward until we know the country as a whole has been stabilized.

Email Editorial Assistant Lloyd Lee at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by The Lawman
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2021 at 9:07 am

The Lawman is a registered user.

A very commendable effort but curious...was most of this funding from East Indian professionals now residing and employed in the United States?

If so, they have an obvious moral and ethical obligation to aid and assist their friends and relatives in India during this time of a heightened Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not the responsibility of others (i.e. non East Indians) to get heavily involved in this fundraising effort as we have enough problems on the domestic front to contend with.


Posted by peppered
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2021 at 11:00 am

peppered is a registered user.

@The Lawman where you say:
"It is not the responsibility of others (i.e. non East Indians) to get heavily involved in this fundraising effort as we have enough problems on the domestic front to contend with."
Except the virus knows no national boundaries. And we're all human. So there's that.
While you may wish to restrict your focus to domestic issues, many others have (thankfully) a broader perspective.


Posted by Solar Renegade
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2021 at 11:22 am

Solar Renegade is a registered user.

Concurring with The Lawman.

It is the moral responsibility of the well-to-do expatriate professionals from East India to take care of their own people if so desired.

The United Nations and World Health Organization can also do their part but non-East Indian Palo Altans and other American citizens as a whole have no obligation to either subsidize or assist in the healthcare provisions of another country.

Medicare and Medi-Cal (if applicable) for American citizens should be our first priority.

And fortunately the GoFundMe program provides a fiscal outlet for those who wish to contribute.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Thank you for what you have done. We are a global village and we should all be able to help our fellow villagers, be they near or far.


Posted by Avery Lennox
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2021 at 2:52 pm

Avery Lennox is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Loren Beck
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2021 at 4:32 pm

Loren Beck is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by A Time For Healing
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 22, 2021 at 9:17 am

A Time For Healing is a registered user.

Raising $670,000.00 in only a month is both noteworthy and significant.

A lot of generous and well-to-do East Indian health care and software professionals residing in the SF Bay Area were most likely able to make this medical relief effort a reality.

Public health is severely on the decline in India as the Covid-19 variant takes its toll. The poorer East Indians are now dumping dead bodies into the Ganges by the hundreds rather than having them cremated.

Perhaps some of this monetary relief can go towards the proper disposal of dead bodies ravaged by the coronavirus.


Posted by D. Chelliah MD
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 22, 2021 at 11:47 am

D. Chelliah MD is a registered user.

This unfortunate scenario of a mass coronavirus outbreak in India could have been averted to a certain extent.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world's largest producer of vaccines including its association with Astra-Zenica to produce the Covid-19 vaccine. The SII also received a $3M grant from the Gates Foundation to increase production.

The Indian government failed to preorder its own supply of vaccine (only 21 million doses for a population of 1.4 billion) from the Serum Institute of India and as a result, many of its citizens remain unvaccinated.

As in the Trump administration, the Indian government is solely responsible for this unnecessary suffering and death.

Though I am originally from India and a health care professional in infectious diseases, there is absolutely no way that I will travel to India to offer medical assistance given that I may never be allowed to re-enter the United States at a later date.


Posted by Expatriate From India
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 22, 2021 at 12:05 pm

Expatriate From India is a registered user.

My highly-educated family emigrated from India to escape the rampant poverty, disease, and population density of our native country.

Outside of an occasional visit )which is ill-advised today), why would we ever want to return on a permanent basis?

Palo Alto is the place to be...good schools, nice people, and safe streets.


Posted by woodsider
a resident of Woodside
on May 22, 2021 at 4:26 pm

woodsider is a registered user.

Not sure what the point is regarding "us vs them" or national origin type of commens..anyone who who feels some connection to the cause can or is open to contributing..


Posted by Lillian of Ladera
a resident of Portola Valley
on May 22, 2021 at 5:02 pm

Lillian of Ladera is a registered user.

I don't perceive donations as an us vs them conflict.

We only donate to tax-deductible charitable organizations and verifiable non-profits as these contributions are eligible for legitimate IRS tax deductions.

Non org. types of GoFundMe monetary requests and street panhandlers are simply ignored.


Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2021 at 6:23 am

Longtime Resident is a registered user.

What ever happened to Adar Poonawalla? The billionaire of the Serum Institute who recently did a lengthy BBC interview and bragged how he was going to make so much vaccine - that he was undecided about the price to charge less fortunate countries?

As person with many years in biotech, I knew he was a egotistical scammer after watching the BBC broadcast, and also videos of his factory. I could see that they were not up international GMP standards, and could not possibly produce the volumes he was stating.
Does money make people people delusional?
He should return any money given to him by the Gates Foundation and Pfizer.

One of a multitude of problems in India occurring in India at present.

And what with the Go Fund Me Site?? Well intentioned, but doubtful it will reach the people in dire need after all the corrupt official take their cuts.


Posted by James Waters Ph.D.
a resident of Stanford
on May 23, 2021 at 6:48 am

James Waters Ph.D. is a registered user.

> Longtime Resident/Old PA

You are 100% correct in your assessment.
The Serum Institute of India received massive funding support to produce 200 million doses of Astra-Zeneca vaccine under the name Covishield for the global vaccination effort.

Production was extremely slow and to date it has only produced 20 million doses.

And as far as any GoFundMe donations are concerned, it is always a good idea knowing where the money is actually being sent and how it is being spent along with the actual results.

If the organization or individuals seeking donations are not an IRS verified non-profit or recognized charity, it is sometimes advisable to investigate them a bit further.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2021 at 7:01 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Donations come from the heart. When it comes to donating your time and money, as long as your heart is in the right place.

GoFundMe isn't for us, but if others want to it's helpful to any cause. Hopefully the money gets there.


Posted by JB
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 23, 2021 at 9:00 pm

JB is a registered user.

I'm surprised to read so many negative comments about this campaign by the Medirattas to help people in India receive oxygen concentrators. Of course, it's important to check any Go Fund Me site for trustworthiness, and I certainly hope that their hard work resulted in oxygen concentrators getting to the people in desperate need of them. They have a relative in India who is a doctor, so hopefully that will help the situation. I don't believe that Americans should only help other Americans in this terrible covid epidemic. The covid-19 virus has mutated in India to produce a dangerous variant. Besides helping people in need in India, these variants easily travel around the globe. To stop this terrible epidemic, we need to try to vaccinate and help people worldwide. I have not read the current statistics for Santa Clara County, but I have read that we already have had a few cases of the British and Brazil variants confirmed in our county. Perhaps the India variant has already been confirmed here as well. I salute this couple for their kindness, their quick and hard work, and their desire to help others. Nobody needs to donate to their campaign, but I was hoping to see more generous comments online about their work. I hope that Kanika's parents continue to improve.


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