A LEADING Asian businessman and philanthropist has emphasised the “urgent” need for aid in India to help the healthcare system tackle the Covid-19 crisis, as the toll continues to rise across the country.
Coronavirus has ravaged India in a devastating second wave in recent months, with more than 350,000 deaths across the country. As Eastern Eye went to print on Tuesday (9), the number of confirmed cases was just below 29 million.
In Gujarat, the home state of prime minister Narendra Modi, the 950-bed Shree Krishna Hospital, the largest charitable private hospital in the state, has been at the forefront of the crisis in India.
Identified by the state health authorities as a ‘Designated Covid-19 District Hospital’, the hospital’s Waymade Critical Care Centre (WCCC) has helped treat more than 5,000 coronavirus patients since the pandemic broke last year. It is the only facility between the cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara which can treat critically unwell patients.
Due to the spike in cases, hospitals and crematoriums have become increasingly overwhelmed – and the WCCC is no different. They have not yet had to turn critical Covid patients away, but resources are stretched. The hospital is fully financed by UK-based charity The Shanta Foundation.
Charity co-founder Vijay Patel reflected upon the urgency of the situation. “People are dying in the streets, in their homes,” he told Eastern Eye. “Some are being refused access to healthcare because the hospitals are full. The main thing that is required immediately is oxygen.”
In response, the Shanta Foundation launched an appeal earlier this year to fundraise for essential equipment. Donations have been used to fund an expansion of the facilities for treatment of Covid patients; a strengthened centralised oxygen supply system, with additional oxygen storage tanks; a Covid care facility for recovering patients and stable patients needing quarantine; and safety equipment for care givers and patients, such as PPE (personal protective equipment) and hand sanitiser.
As Eastern Eye went to print on Tuesday (8), the foundation had raised more than £500,000. Shanta Foundation founders Vijay and his brother Bhikhu Patel pledged to match any donations received up to £1 million.
Vijay Patel said he was first alerted to the devastation caused by Covid-19 by the widespread media coverage. “We are all aware from the media what a nasty experience those poor people (in India) are going through because of the pandemic,” he said.
As well as battling the deadly virus, India has also seen a surge in cases of the black fungus disease. Around 12,000 cases of the condition have been reported in the country, mainly in patients recovering from coronavirus. Doctors have blamed irrational steroid use for rising cases. The fungal infection has a mortality rate of approximately 50 per cent.
Vijay Patel confirmed the WCCC had been dealing with the infection too. “They’re (the hospital) handling it all the time,” he said.
Founded more than four decades ago, the Shanta Foundation helps to provide health, shelter and education to vulnerable communities through a variation of projects. Vijay and Bhikhu are actively involved in the charity’s initiatives, regularly travelling abroad to visit existing schemes and establish new ones.
Since its inception, the organisation has helped to raise money for countless causes, including essential funding for numerous hospitals and schools across India and Africa. The foundation is named after Vijay’s mother, Shanta Patel. She sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 98.
His mother was a passionate philanthropist and would always give 10 per cent of her income to charities, Vijay recalled. He remembers her as a “very strong individual, totally committed to her cause”. “My mother would have given everything she has for (this appeal),” Vijay said.
“She brought us up with the view that we have to first and foremost think of others, people who are much less fortunate than us. That’s very important to our family.”