Delhi local communities take coronavirus battle into their own hands

Delhi is one of India's worst affected cities in the pandemic. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - As India's capital city Delhi continues to see rising coronavirus cases put stress on the medical system, local communities and residential complexes are stepping in to buy oxygen cylinders, pulse oximeters and even ventilators for residents.

Delhi is one of India's worst affected cities in the pandemic, with 53,116 Covid-19 cases and 2,035 deaths.

At Ambica Co-Op Housing Building Society in Paschim Vihar in West Delhi, at least eight of its 600-odd residents have so far tested positive for coronavirus. Two men, both above the age of 75, have died.

The resident welfare association (RWA) governing the complex has bought three home oxygen converters and four oxygen cylinders, and placed an order for 100 portable oxygen cans for its residents.

In India, RWAs manage the daily running of their residential areas.

"A main problem is when people need oxygen. So we were able to help out six to seven residents when they needed oxygen. We have kept the equipment in a large hall (in the complex). Whenever someone phones for it, we send it across and explain to them how to use it," said Mr Lokesh Munjal, RWA president for the society.

"In Delhi, cases are going up day by day. We have to do something at our level," he added.

Delhi, which has a population of 19 million, has recorded tales of desperate scrambling for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, patients being forced to go to multiple hospitals for admission and long queues at crematoriums.

The city's government has forecast it will have 500,000 cases by the end of next month.

Delhi's health minister Satyendar Jain is himself battling Covid-19 and is on oxygen support.

The pandemic in India, which has 395,000 cases, is expected to peak as late as mid November.

India has the world's fourth-highest number of confirmed cases, but World Health Organization experts have noted that the numbers are still not alarming given India's population of 1.35 billion.

A study conducted by researchers from the government's Indian Council for Medical Research said the epidemic can be mitigated if public health infrastructure could be boosted, even as it warned of ICU bed and ventilator shortages.

The state and federal government are now scrambling to increase testing and the number of beds.

A spiritual centre in the capital city, described by Indian media reports as being larger than 22 football fields, has been converted into a Covid facility with 10,000 beds.

Hospital beds have been set up in 40 hotels and 77 banquet halls and 500 railway coaches.

Doctors have advised people to take as many precautions as they can on the local level.

"Now the ground reality is that we are expecting the numbers to increase every day and what I think is that RWAs and local medical bodies have to play a role of an extended family," said Dr Sandeep Sharma, a radiologist and president of the Indian Medical Association's South Delhi branch.

"I believe that gives you not only confidence but also gives comfort that there are people around. It is the need of the hour."

At Nizamuddin West in Central Delhi, the local residents welfare association is training guards of the colony and a few residents on using oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrates.

The RWA has also bought a BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) machine, which pushes air into the lungs, for more serious cases within the 750-family colony.

"We have a few doctors in the colony who have formed a group to guide any emergencies and guide residents on the use of oxygen," said Mr Kamaal Akhtar, vice president of Nizamuddin West RWA.

"In this current scenario, it is necessary."

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