India has been reeling under a sense of extreme helplessness since the beginning of April, this year. As the second phase of the coronavirus pandemic intensified, it led to a grim situation with hospitals running out of medical supplies, patients overcrowding every possible nook and corner of treatment facilities, and families of the deceased queuing outside crematoriums to conduct the funeral rites.
With the government largely missing in action, desperate citizens turned to social media in a bid to save lives. It was indeed a silver lining. Scores of people from diverse backgrounds came forward to help the ones in dire need. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were flooded with requests for oxygen cylinders, ventilator beds, hospital beds, and COVID-19 medicines.
Social media platforms turned into SOS helplines and 'verified' the buzzword. Individuals and not-for-profit organisations started seeking financial support by asking people to donate to ensure timely aid to the deprived.
Amid the chaos and struggle, a group of internet users have joined hands to devise a platform that would serve as a bank of verified information or 'leads' on the accessible medical aid across the country. Called covidresources.in, the platform provides validated data on the availability of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, oxygen beds, oxygen cylinders, coronavirus testing services, food delivery services for COVID patients, etc.
"We are primarily focussing on two aspects—crowdsourcing of the healthcare information to fight the current crisis and to create nationwide awareness on creating robust healthcare infrastructure by roping in the corporates. In the long term, the second would prevent such catastrophe," Smit Shah, one of the early members of the team, told The Logical Indian.
How Is Info Validated?
"The information or the leads are funneled through various social media and online platforms, including the initiatives that are being run on regional levels. The team comprises 350 volunteers spread across the country who, on an everyday basis, scout for information and conduct the verification. Once validated, the information is added to the repository and is published on the website and all other platforms," said Shah.
The team puts up only the healthcare supplier's information after securing necessary permissions. The identity of the person seeking help is not published. The website is simple, user-friendly, and does not require filling any forms or sign-ups.
On being asked about the volunteers, Shah said that the people are from diverse backgrounds have collaborated for the initiative and their expertise has helped in strengthening the operations.
"Ex-entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and social media influencers. The hue and cry for critical supplies on social media caught our attention. However, each one of us was helping in an ad-hoc capacity like retweeting or resharing the requests.
"Initially, it started with Twitter which moved to WhatsApp groups of various task-based teams formed at the state as well as city levels. Some of our friends from outside India also warned us about the possibility of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. We connected and came to the conclusion that the concern was not for a short while and needed a long-term approach," he added.
He said that his team is using the 'Playbook Approach' which is creating a defined template for others to follow.
"We have developed the technology and the interface solutions and now we are trying to onboard the communities who are working on similar projects—from people making social groups to the ones maintaining excel sheets on local levels. The idea is to integrate the data and assemble them on one platform. Removing the repetitive efforts and aggregating the community-driven initiatives to a country-wide collaboration," Shah explained.
When asked about the kind of impact the volunteers would be facing due to constant exposure to social media amid the crisis, he informed that sessions on mental health are regularly conducted for the team. Mentors from several industries, out of their free will, also indulge in pep talks to keep the team motivated.
He stressed that the initiative would extend for a long while in an attempt to identify and solve the core infrastructural loopholes existing in the country.
"I want more people to join the initiative. It should also not be limited to joining but remaining consistent with putting in the efforts for the larger good. We need to ask beyond electricity, water and housing facilities," Shah said.