Imagine being so sick that you need an ambulance to rush you to the hospital, only to get stuck in a long waiting line of ambulances outside the hospital that are also filled with patients in need of treatment. Some patients do not make it out of those ambulances alive.
This has been the reality for many people in Chennai and across India since the second wave of COVID hit earlier this year. The exponential surge in coronavirus infections has swamped the country’s healthcare system, particularly with an unpredictable and overwhelming demand for oxygen.
Patients started off asymptomatic but would suddenly develop symptoms such as a fever, cough and cold. Eventually their oxygen saturation levels would begin to drop and continue dropping unless they sought medical treatment in time. Some patients would end up needing a ventilator, and once that happened, chances of survival were significantly lowered.
“In the first wave, we did not have this kind of an oxygen demand and beds were available in most of the hospitals. Suddenly, it was like a tsunami. This time there were literally no beds available. This time oxygen is the main scarcity,” said S.M. Govindarajan, the President of the Lions Club of Thiruneermalai.
The Lions Club of Thiruneermalai is one of the many non-government organisations (NGOs) that has been actively supporting its community in Chennai. With a mission to serve people, the club plunged into action at the start of the pandemic last year when they saw their community struggling to survive a food shortage.
Through crowdfunding within its club members and external network, the Lions Club of Thiruneermalai supplied grocery kits to over 2,000 beneficiaries. They also provided financial assistance to those whose income was cut off by the lockdown, such as priests whose survival is very much dependent on the donation and offerings by temple-goers.
“Last year our focus was only on providing the basics necessities for survival such as groceries and cash assistance; but this year because of the medical emergencies, our focus has shifted to the medical infrastructure and medical supplies,” said Govindarajan.
When the second wave of COVID began in Chennai this year, Govindarajan got a panic call from a chief medical officer of a local government hospital. He was also a Lions Club member and was requesting urgent assistance. “He told me that the oxygen in the hospital was only going to last for two hours and there were 50 patients. He was literally in tears,” said Govindarajan.
The Lions Club of Thiruneermalai immediately dove into action by tapping into its network and procuring 20 oxygen cylinders for the hospital. The club collected empty cylinders and filled them up whilst also acquiring new oxygen cylinders. This was no easy feat due to the unexpected surge in demand during the second wave which had also led to opportunistic middlemen and black marketers trying to make a profit.
Despite this, the club has continued to provide a steady flow of oxygen cylinders required by the hospitals and COVID care centres throughout the second wave. They have so far supplied more than 100 oxygen cylinders in total since the surge in cases began.
In addition to that, the Lions Club of Thiruneermalai also managed to secure oxygen concentrators that were urgently needed to address the issue of oxygen shortage. The oxygen concentrators are machines which pull air from the atmosphere, separate out the nitrogen and carbon while channelling the oxygen back to the patient.
“See, the biggest problem is that the people stuck waiting in the ambulances were suffering from a lack of oxygen. The main casualties happened because there was no oxygen supply. So, we also managed to get some oxygen concentrators through our network to help the people waiting for admission.”
The Lions Club of Thiruneermalai also managed to support its local hospitals by meeting their requests for water purifiers to provide clean and hot water to patients. They managed to install temporary water purifiers in the hospitals initially, and now thanks to support from RYTHM Foundation, the club is able to provide a more long-term solution to the hospitals’ hot water needs.
Through its inaugural partnership with the Lions Club of Thiruneermalai, RYTHM Foundation is supporting the club in its efforts to install two permanent water purifiers in the COVID ward of the Chromepet Government Hospital which will directly purify the water and provide the patients with hot water.
In addition to that, RYTHM Foundation is providing support to the Lions Club of Thiruneermalai’s COVID relief efforts by funding 500 oxygen masks, 100 oxygen flow meters, 100 pulse oximeters and 6 wheelchairs. This contribution provides several basic but crucial necessities required by local hospitals as they continue to combat the COVID crisis in Chennai.
“I am proud and happy because by providing oxygen cylinders, we’ve probably helped save more than 3,000 casualties. And now by coming forward to help us in this critical time, RYTHM Foundation is also indirectly supporting us to help save thousands of lives. We’re very thankful and confident that if there is a genuine need, irrespective of cash, creed, religion or country, we can count on RYTHM Foundation,” said Govindarajan.