DENVER (CBS4) – Coloradans concerned for their family and friends living in India as that country struggles to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control joined a fundraiser from an international nonprofit to buy supplies desperately needed. New cases this week averaged more than 350,000 each day as Sewa International, and its local chapters including in Colorado, launched a campaign to save lives in India.
“We want to help because if we can stop it where it is right now, hopefully it will not spread everywhere else, and we will not have it worldwide because that could be a major, major disaster,” said Dr. Janak Joshi, the president of the Colorado chapter of Sewa International. “What Sewa International is doing, raising the funds and sending the supply. I mean that is the best we can do right now because we are 10,000 miles away.”
The Hindu faith-based organization has helped with disaster relief in the states and abroad for almost two decades. The decision to start a fund for India after a dramatic spike in cases and deaths has raised $6 million in less than a week. The organization has also provided vaccine clinics in Colorado, reaching out to minority and other underserved communities.
“Everywhere in the world, everyone needs to be cautious because we can’t control this particular virus,” said Ranga Vinjamuri, the vice president of the Colorado chapter. “We learned based on this second wave in India that everyone around the world should be cautious about this.”
Members of the group have lived in Colorado for decades visiting family back in India when possible. Since the start of the pandemic, travel to that country has been a challenge and recently it has become restricted. Even without the logistical issues, the danger for anyone abroad to enter with the current spread of the coronavirus has forced families to remain apart. Technology is the only connection they have at the moment, families stay in touch over the phone, sending messages, or making video calls.
“The sad part is that we are not there for the family,” said Vijayalakshmi Bettadapura. “We feel really helpless, you know, staying so far away from them.”
The money raised by Sewa International will help to send around 2,500 oxygen-concentrators to India. The organization also has 1,000 volunteers on the ground working with the COVID response in that country. In addition to that equipment, other medical supplies and more doses of COVID vaccines are needed to stabilize the current crisis.
“I keep talking to my family a couple of times a day and try to keep in touch,” Vinjamuri told CBS4 on a video conference call. “A concern that you have in the back of the mind all the time.”
Members of the South Asian diaspora in Colorado and around the world have watched India’s response since the beginning of the pandemic. A lockdown last year suggested that the country had COVID at moderate levels, even registering less cases than expected for such a large population. But now the number of cases and deaths are rapidly growing, with some experts concerned the official count is only a fraction of the actual total.
“This is the problem, if one person gets it, everybody around them gets it,” Joshi said on a video conference call with CBS4.
The outbreak as it stands is likely the cause of several factors including restrictions lifted too early, allowing people to gather in large groups. This started when only two percent of the country’s population is vaccinated. The lifestyle of many in India also competes with necessary COVID-19 precautions and recommendations, including multi-generational households together in smaller spaces. Families in many cities live in high-rise buildings where neighbors cannot keep their distance.
“I hear about death everyday, I hear about family members turning positive and getting into hospitals everyday,” said Bettadapura on a video conference call with CBS4. “Sometimes you know it’s the human touch that’s needed and that’s what I feel we are deprived of here.”
Her uncle is currently in the hospital with COVID, she lost another relative in India to the virus last year. Even having access to a hospital bed and oxygen supply is such a challenge for many families, visiting their loved ones and helping them once they get medical attention is another setback. The risk of contracting coronavirus in public is so high, Bettadapura says her loved ones worry about someone getting infected while visiting a hospital just to get their second dose of a vaccine.
Leaders of the Colorado chapter of Sewa International want their fellow citizens in the U.S. to learn from the situation in India, explaining it is a warning to countries around the globe. They believe the work they’re doing there will have a lasting impact on others, including those living closer to their adopted home.
“We are all just one family and having the whole world as a family,” she said. “The only way we can fight this pandemic is when we come together and help each other.”