Role of community during COVID-19 in India: When the state and markets failed

by Manali Jain

“Three days ago, my entire family tested positive for COVID-19. Yesterday, my father’s condition became severe, when he vomited blood and reported severe chest pain. We decided to take him to a hospital. Soon after reaching there, doctors told us how worse his condition was.

“Based on his CT scan report, we had no choice but to hospitalise him. After hours of wait, the hospital staff informed us that there was no ICU bed available for my father. We then took him to four more hospitals. But a common response of hospital staff was – no bed, no ICU,” says Punyata, a 30-year-old woman from Delhi.

The current situation suggests that the Indian healthcare system has collapsed. There is hardly anyone available to listen to millions of pleading voices. Lack of information and proper response from the administration and hospitals has left thousands of people to run across cities to find critical resources like oxygen, hospital beds, and Remdesivir injections as their loved one’s fight COVID-19.

Limited common understanding around the procedure and treatment has worsened the situation. It is the combined failure of state and markets with their lack of ability to deliver to the needs of citizens, a basic amenity such as healthcare. It has not only affected people physically, but has taken a serious toll on our mental health.

As we read and watch the news every day, sitting at our homes and trying to fight against COVID with our families, there is only one thought that comes to my mind which says that we can only rely on ourselves at this moment to keep our loved ones safe.

Few days ago, when I was reading ‘The Third Pillar‘ by Dr Raghuram Rajan, I realised how it talks about the power of community as a vehicle for addressing some of our major global issues, on how the three forces – states, markets, and communities – interact currently and what needs to be changed.

His focus on the need to strengthen and empower these communities to resolve the growing unrest and despair in society brought me to its relevance in the current circumstances.

As I check on my phone these days, I find myself scrolling through different groups and stories on social media, where people are helping each other find medical resources. This has made me realise the role of community that has become more important than ever.

Our virtual and local communities have been trying to fill the information gaps that states or markets couldn’t as we firefight with COVID.

As Punyata recalls, “I found myself helpless at that moment and called some of my friends for help. I also texted on WhatsApp groups and posted a story on Facebook. Many of my contacts shared my story in their network across cities. Some found leads in my locality.

In fact, people shared various weblinks spread across areas and updated frequently. After 5 hours, I was able to find a hospital bed through the help of one of the mutual friends.”

In these times, when the system has collapsed, youth of India is leveraging social media to provide up-to-date and verified information for resources as they create websitesonline links, and apps for the same. Some social media influencers have sprung into action to support those in need as they amplify messages and share it with their followers to get more leads.

Some messages have been found to be fake forwards or hoaxes, but the social media network has largely supported people by increasing their request across geographies quickly. So far, the advantages outweigh the downside.

Besides, multiple volunteers, donors and NGOs are providing home-cooked mealsoxygen drive-through, as well as rickshaw ambulances for the patients and their families. As we deal with this crisis, we find ourselves in dire need of assistance and support, whether medically, mentally, physically, or financially.

Communities have emerged as a strong pillar and a source of strength in these distressing times. The crisis has made us understand the true potential of communities whether local or virtual and how it can potentially save lives when state and markets are failing to play their part.

At this point, while we help each other, it is also essential to understand that we as a community could have dealt more carefully than we did. By lowering our guards and not following basic protocols of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, we increased the risk of infections.

To stop the transmissions, community awareness and COVID appropriate behavior with vaccination are essential. Though late, it is also time that local government officials and machinery are given autonomy in handling the situations by crafting their own strategies through assessment of on-ground situations.

Besides arranging resources, they should support in building clearly refined and verified repositories to spread accurate information through social media.

Similarly, it is also the duty of all the citizens to actively participate by taking appropriate hygiene measures and fact-checking before sharing any posts or pieces of information.

This op-ed was submitted by Manali Jain, a financial consultant at MicroSave and also an economist.

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