Tue, 22 Jun 2021

US South Asian Community Mobilizes Aid for COVID-plagued India

Voice of America
07 May 2021, 04:05 GMT+10

NAPERVILLE, ILLINOIS - Entrepreneur Anil Joshi engages in a dismal ritual every morning just checking the internet for the latest coronavirus pandemic news from India from a laptop computer perched on the breakfast table in his suburban Chicago home.

"In my own family - my cousin's family actually has four people - all four people got infected," Joshi told VOA. "A childhood friend of my mine died actually."

In the past several weeks, seven members of Ashfaq Syed's extended family in the Indian city of Hyderabad have contracted the COVID-19 virus. He says all seven have since died.

"It is going crazy," says Syed, a Naperville Public Library Board trustee. "I've been getting messages every day of somebody passing away, especially from my family and friends and loved ones."

As the number of those infected with COVID-19 continues to surge in India, overwhelming the health care system in the country, many from South Asia now living in the United States have watched helplessly as friends and family members grapple with the virus - with many thousands dying daily because of a lack of oxygen. The World Health Organization said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week.

Tech solutions

Joshi's company, IntelliH, is creating technology that could help during the crisis. Its product would allow medical professionals to remotely assess and monitor patients. He says he has a team of 35 employees in India developing the technology, but the virus is slowing down their work.

"In our own group, in the last three weeks, we have four people who are actually infected and not able to work," Joshi says. "Because their mom or dad got it first, and obviously Indian families are very closely knit families and they live together."

As infections rise, so does the need for supplies - and quickly.

"People need oxygen supply there," Joshi says. "People need medicines like remdesivir and others."

"We need ventilators," Syed says. While there are challenges in getting actual equipment collected and sent to India, he says sending money has provided immediate assistance.

"Oxygen, an ox cylinder, used to be 2,000 Indian rupees earlier," Syed says. "Now it has shot up to 20,000, 30,000 because of the shortage of oxygen, so we need to arrange for funds, which we are doing."

World COVID Patient Oxygen Needs

There are about 250,000 people living in Illinois with direct connections to South Asia, and the call for help in the community is spreading.

'Praying for India'

Sajjad Bhatti is originally from Pakistan, a neighbor to India. He runs a restaurant, Sara's Grill, in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. He says he has barely survived the financial hardship created by the COVID-19 lockdowns in the U.S. that kept customers away over the past year.

While his own family in Pakistan is healthy and - so far - safe from the virus, his heart is with those across the border in India who are suffering, and enduring, terrible grief.

"It doesn't matter if they are Muslim, Hindu, whatever, they are praying for all of India," Bhatti told VOA. "That's what we ... in our mosque, in our churches, everywhere they are praying for India."

While business hasn't returned to normal, and despite Bhatti's own continuing financial hardship, he is working with Syed to raise about $10,000 in donations to purchase medical supplies in India.

"We are collecting some funds from here and sending back to the organization Helping Hand Foundation, so they will be buying those instruments," Syed says.

As Bhatti works the phones in his restaurant, below a large black-and-white portrait of India's revered Mahatma Gandhi and Pakistan's founding leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he hopes gestures of aid to those suffering provide an opportunity during the crisis to promote peace between two estranged neighbors.

"Anybody in India, they are brothers too," Bhatti says. "It is the biggest opportunity, and we hope we are going to build a bridge and everything will calm down through outreach."

Outreach that is needed in India, where the total number of COVID-19 cases - and deaths - continues to rise.

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