Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Covid-19 Warriors: Volunteers from J&K unite to ensure there is no shortage of medical supplies

The SOSJK team works round-the-clock on ground and on social media to ensure ambulance services, oxygen, beds and doctors are readily available

Published: May 5, 2021 12:50:13 PM IST
Updated: May 6, 2021 11:17:24 AM IST

Covid-19 Warriors: Volunteers from J&K unite to ensure there is no shortage of medical suppliesClockwise- SOSJK volunteers: Khushboo Mattoo, Ayushman Koul, Mohit Bhan, Ifra Jan, Umesh Talashi, Vishal Koul

“Nobody plans to be a hero, but we saw a void and knew we needed to fill it. We keep waiting for the right time… the perfect chance to be a hero. But that’s not how it works. If we don’t take action now, it’ll be too late,” says Khushboo Mattoo, one of the pioneers of SOSJK, a helpline for medical aid and supplies in Jammu & Kashmir.

On April 21, a group of friends on Twitter saw an appeal from cricketer Mithun Manhas, who is assistant coach for Indian Premier League (IPL) team Royal Challengers Bangalore, pleading for oxygen for his Covid-19 positive grandfather. “If a person as influential as Mithun Manhas was finding it difficult to procure supplies, where do the common people stand?” wonders Vishal Koul, another volunteer.  

So, a group of four friends-turned-volunteers was formed on Twitter. Their role was to answer any calls for help, and zero in on leads for supplies. The initiative turned into SOSJK and gained immense traction; as more people joined from districts far and wide, the team grew to 250-plus volunteers. The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is grim with close to 40,000 active cases. With abysmally low supplies that are decreasing further every day and a dearth of hospitals, volunteers fear a situation like Delhi.  

SOSJK is trying to ensure there is adequate medical aid available for people by developing an efficient system. It has definitive divisions in accordance with the services it offers people: Ambulance services, hospital bed procurement, oxygen cylinder supplies, blood/plasma donations and doctor consultations. Though they work remotely, the volunteers constantly monitor #SOSJK on Twitter—the main platform on which they operate. They also have a WhatsApp group which is inundated with requests. Requests on social media are amplified by the likes of former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The SOSJK team consists of people from diverse fields—from political analysts to doctors. “Calamity is a great equaliser,” says Mattoo.  

They also have on-site volunteers who deliver supplies to patients in need. Help is provided only after a thorough verification from both sides—the patient and the supplier. If someone’s oxygen saturation is below 90, they recommend that the patient visits a hospital and get the necessary tests done. For those with milder symptoms—that can be treated at home—they provide oxygen and other supplies, if possible. In case of shortages leading to a lack of supplies at their end, they note down the patient’s details, and refer them to a doctor. If the case is urgent and necessitates a hospital visit, they prioritise these patients. If there are still no beds available, they refer callers to other organisations that they work with, such as NGO Athrout. As of now, they claim to have helped more than 150 patients.   

Volunteers work around the clock, taking calls, verifying leads and offering support to callers. Says Mattoo: “I have a young daughter at home. But with the amount of work I have every day, it’s difficult to spend more than five minutes with her at a time. I tell her about the situation and what I’m doing, so that she knows that her mom didn’t just sit idle during this crisis. You don’t have to be a doctor to be a Covid warrior.” 

This action-oriented approach is clear by SOSJK’s view towards pictures—“We don’t believe in pictures,” says Umesh Talashi, another volunteer. After all, actions speak louder than words (or in this case, images). They are happy to stay behind-the-scenes as long as they are able to help people. 

SOSJK isn’t accepting donations currently, but encourages everyone pan-India to do whatever they can to help. In case of leads, it encourages citizens to post it on Twitter with the hashtag #SOSJK, and to donate blood and plasma, if possible. The volunteers request citizens to amplify people’s requests on social media or send food to Covid-ridden families. Also, respect social distancing and remain isolated at home. Because at this juncture, it’s more than a social obligation; it’s necessary to save lives.