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India's COVID-19 Crisis ft. Dr. Asima Banu and Grishma & Jay of 'War With Covid'

Grishma: [00:00:00] So I got a call from , once I got a call from a young lady from Lucknow and she was crying and bawling her eyes out. She wanted, uh, oxygen for her dad and she couldn't get it. And he was really old. And. He was, it was very soon as I still get chills every time I like think about that incident.

Kriti: [00:00:29] Hey guys, welcome to WhyFI Matter$.

Today's episode will be a bit different than prior episodes. These past few weeks, millions and millions of Indian Americans have been living two realities. Here in the United States, thankfully COVID 19 infections have continued to decline, but across the world and India, like many of you probably know they're experiencing a devastating unfathomable COVID 19 crisis.

The Indian diaspora has been oscillating between different emotions. Frustration, anxiety, nervousness, anger, and even guilt. As I go to my in-person school, as I get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I compete in tournament now and even just go outside for a nice walk. My family back home is locked up in their house, unable to go outside and unable to see the rest of the world. Yet again. Today I wanted to share with you the circumstances and challenges that Indians are facing today, as well as the ways that we, the rest of the world can help. We're going to hear from two young adults who are helping out in ways that they can, and they're all the way from Maharashtra and Pune their names are Grishma and Jay.

Also, we're going to hear from Dr. Asima Banu and she's a medical microbiologist, and she's leading the effort to fight the crisis at the Victoria hospital in Bangalore.

But first I want to just share with you some heavy, hard statistics. So according to India's governmental branch, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. There are at least 24 million cases confirmed in India with around 400,000 new cases a day with experts believing that the death count is much greater than the reported count of 266,000 deaths.

Jay: [00:02:33] When someone just calls us and says, uh, we are not getting the best, or sometimes we even get, get texts. Like the person you were helping is not breathing anymore. Not alive.

Kriti: [00:02:47] in the state of Karnataka. Dr. Sima Banu is actually hopeful that India will find light at the end of the tunnel. First here's a little bit on her medical background.

Thank you for all of your work, first of all, but could you tell us a little bit more about your medical background and also your leadership role right now at the Victoria hospital in Bangalore?

Dr. Banu: [00:03:16] Yeah. Thank you so much for your lovely and kind introduction. I studied my medical school, biomedical scholars and research Institute. That was way back in the nineties. And then after this, I did my post-graduation in medical microbiology. I did my masters as well as my diploma in bacteriology and biology.

So basically that brings me into the limelight with this dynamic. And since 20 years now, uh, I am working in the same institution as I studied in. And now I'm a professor of microbiology. And so last five years, I have been the nodal officer of the emergency block, which is a 200 bed emergency hospital in Victoria hospital complex.

So that's what I have been working right now. And when the pandemic started in March last year, we got our first case. And then now. It's a continuous flow of patients in and out, and there continue to be the COVID hospital. The main COVID hospital have a bad job. We have been motivating people on and off families, helping workers to come forward and take the death.

I have a radio show where I. I have people question me on the importance of Covid in precautions related radio show on SM. So I keep telling them, trying to get people to get back to me.

Kriti: [00:04:42] Articles Dr. Banu has been described as a quote 'Secret Santa', maintaining a positive outlook, perhaps this is why her hospital has been doing relatively well.

Dr. Banu: [00:04:55] So we are lucky because we have not got any problems with oxygen. As of now, it, our hospital has ample oxygen. They were catering to seven 50 beds. We have oxygen about some of the other hospitals who didn't actually expect this tsunami were private members, smaller ones who have limited patients and limited oxygen requirements.

These are the ones who we are suffering.

Kriti: [00:05:22] But for most regions in India navigating the second wave has been very hard scrolling through pictures of India. It looks like a war just happened or a Wars going on. Crematories are overflowing with bodies. Some hospitals are overwhelmed. Flames are ablaze and photographs.

Some cities are even in a lockdown. They're so quiet. It's hard to realize that you're looking at a picture of India. It's just all very, very unsettling. So I wanted to hear from people who are living through this experience. So we're going to hear from law student Grishma and engineering student, Jay, on how this upsurge in cases has affected them.

Jay: [00:06:04] I don't think it has affected much on my studies, but yeah, mentally it has been exhausting to everyone. No matter off which age group. You're just to pick up again.

Grishma: [00:06:17] Well, on the voluntarily, I would like to say my, it has affected my studies a lot actually, because online classes are not as fun as offline classes.

It just, it just doesn't have the same feed. And what usually happens with me or like my class is that sometimes you just log in and give a full insight and do something else. Other than that, So in that terms, I feel like, uh, my studies have effected it mostly, uh, mentally and physically, mentally it's bad.

It's it's my anxieties that, and, Basically humans, I think are social beings and we cannot be isolated and it messed us up to a certain level. I wasn't there I'm an extrovert and putting me completely out of my comfort zone and completely isolating myself was not easy for me, even though I have been doing that for a year, but I'm still struggling to get used to it.

So I feel like mentally it's affected me a lot.

Kriti: [00:07:17] The first wave, the virus sparked a lot of uncertainty to your fear of the unknown and everyone all over the world. But the difference now is that there is no unknown. As we know most of the entirety of the virus. There is the medical infrastructure that helped India last year, but can it support this particular upsurge?

Here's Dr. Bhanu weighing in on the medical infrastructure of India, as well as the mental aspects of the pandemic. Do you think that the medical infrastructure that India has, let's say compared to like America, do you think that the medical infrastructure will be able to support. The huge population of India, because it is the second most populous country. And the fact that it's a democratic country, it's not like China, where the government really controls everything in India. It's the largest democracy in the world. So people have the freedom to do what they want, obviously.

Dr. Banu: [00:08:20] So I would not, I would not compare India with any of the other countries at this moment because other challenges are different.

Right. We have so many periods. We have so many variants. So what I would want to tell you is, um, this , pandemic also, this gave also 80 to 85% of the people are either minor symptoms or is asymptomatic and they can be managed at home. Okay. And then the rest 5% are only serious ones which need hospitalization.

So India is more equipped to manage that 5%, that's just happening here, the panic that is happening and that moderate symptom people also are getting panicky and open for hospitalization.

And that, and people are just gasping for breath, more of anxiety than the disease per se. So if they could just pay calm and 8% of them could manage them, then those 5% who really need the oxygen and the bed would be easily manageable. What is happening is anxiety and the stress is causing them to come and get at me.

Kriti: [00:09:44] I totally see how. I people can be like hypochondriacs. They can like think that, Oh no,

Dr. Banu: [00:10:00] but then it is causing not just mental health future. Yeah, other than now, like me be a huge problem for him in the later part of this interesting

Kriti: [00:10:10] let's shift gears here and take a look at some of the reasons why this upsurge is so much more worse than last years.

Dr. Banu: [00:10:18] The main difference has been in the numbers because you can see there's been a tsunami of cases.

That's what we call it. Now in the first week we had a lockdown, the total lockdown, but people don't come out. But during the January and February time of 2021, we were having hardly cases all over India. People thought we are done with COVID. So the COVID appropriate behavior was not seen at all. People were not wearing their masks.

Hardly 20 to 30% would have been wearing their mask. And people started socializing. You had multiple gatherings, colleges and schools reopen. Clusters people brought in cases from other cases international travelers opened up and likewise Indians also started going out the oldest, most small events.

Added up to the

Kriti: [00:11:15] Grishma and. Jay had a lot to say on the way their government reacted and responded to the upsurge. I wanted to talk a little bit about the politics of what's been happening in India right now. Obviously we have president prime minister, sorry, prime minister Modi, the, his government. I read an article where they said that Modi's government seems to "care more about its image rather than the crisis itself".

Unquote, this kind of reminds me a little bit about our prior president, Donald Trump and how he managed COVID, which was appalling. But. Just tell me what you guys, as young people growing up in India, how do you guys think that your government is handling this horrible situation?

Grishma: [00:12:08] Oh, as you said, this is a horrible situation and they're handling it horribly.

They couldn't have been more late. It's bad. It's really, really bad. Yeah, the channel put it mildly because you also get about a life.

Really it's really bad. First of all we are short of vaccines. We did not have vaccines at doll late. We were supposed to get like, uh, vaccines for 80 plus , age group was supposed to start on positive me, but we did not have it. I registered, but I am not getting a slot because we out of vaccines. So. , instead of like, you know, saving the vaccines for us since we're the second most populated country in the world, our government decided to export it and , for the good public image of a, whatever, whatever kind of politics that was, but they decided to care about that more than their own people.

And secondly, They have been conducting rallies. They have been conducting, they have, uh, they have been conducting gatherings, which is appaling, which is sad. There was a Kumbh Mela conductor, which is one of the most biggest, uh, festivities in India. And they were lacks the lacks of people that were there during the second wave of the pandemic when the situation was too bad.

And 6,000 plus people that has a positive debt and they were, and they were, they were they're from all over India. Right. So once they went back to where it came from, imagine they were like super spreaders. So imagine that much spread the virus. So it was bad. It was, it could've easily been stopped. It was a religious gathering and it could've been easily just stopped, but it wasn't, the government was.

Jay: [00:13:59] like, uh, reelection venues without being stopped. And, uh, if I'm not wrong in one of the election rallies now prime minister that I see huge bouts of it, but in every direction, Today you have shown your power, something like this.

Grishma: [00:14:14] even for so bingo. He's, uh, he excited that if I get elected and Bengal, uh, will vaccinate people for free.

So, and he's like, it's like, it's almost like a threat. Like if you get, if you get like elected, then only you're going to get vaccinated for three that's.

Kriti: [00:14:37] Well, I think the future of India is going into great hands. The clip I played at the beginning of this episode shows the hard work and very much, very much emotional work that Grishma and Jay are doing the best they can to help those in need of oxygen, hospitalization, and other things. They get thousands of such calls every single day from people. And people who are on the verge of dying and it's just crazy. So I applaud them for the work that they're doing. So you might be wondering what are the ways that we can actually help out. Grishman and Jay believed that spreading the word and building up awareness is very important so that you can pressurize the government of India to actually take action since many reporters and journalists aren't even covering the crisis accurately here is what Dr. Banu thinks that we should do.

Dr. Banu: [00:15:39] Your families and friends and who hold up, tested positive, and they're monitoring themselves. Please help them, um, to get their confidence, uh, to the spacious feet, to realize that, to make them realize that they will get over this, be the emotional support. And if your doctors and the families, please try to help the people are real, make them realize the saturation of correct.

They're a temporary to assign. And then when they need to go panic, all that, they could monitor them. If you have every family, doctor monitoring the positives at home, I think that we go a long way in handling this pandemic. Everybody needs a home support. So from there also, if anybody on the doctor's there, it's also easy to collect on WhatsApp and all that.

So the friends and families reach out to the friends and families in India. Then I think that be agreeable to us

Kriti: [00:16:37] so much for what you've been doing at Victoria hospital and all of your work. So, uh, keep that up. Obvious.

Dr. Banu: [00:16:45] Many of my patients now become very good friends of mine.

Lots of friends, lots of friends.

Kriti: [00:16:55] I'm so happy that Grishma, Jay and Dr. Banu were able to come on the podcast today. I hope you learn more about what is happening in India and the experiences that people are having there, and also ways for you to actually help them. Um, and the episode description, there are different resources to send oxygen and other necessities for India, including Grishma and Jay's initiative "War with COVID". As much as India suffering right now. I know that with ample help, help and strength to pull through this country can come back strong.

Thanks for listening. And I can't wait to talk to you next time.

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