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Dr Priyansh Shah reading ECG of a mucormycosis patient at Sir Sayaji Rao Hospital, Vadodara, Gujarat
The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India has been particularly difficult for doctors who have had to choose between patients they could treat due to lack of resources. For 23-year-old intern doctor Priyansh Shah, this choice has been disturbing. “During a pandemic, when health care becomes a necessity, the country has struggled to treat patients because of limited resources. Every day we have had to say no to new patients because we didn’t have enough beds and other essentials,” says Shah, an intern at the Sir Sayajirao Hospital in Vadodara, Gujarat.
This conundrum made Shah and a few doctors join hands to source and provide essentials to healthcare workers and Covid-19 patients. Shah is the founder and president of the World Youth Heart Federation, a non-profit that was set up in March 2020 to increase awareness and improve cardiovascular healthcare in India. In the wake of the gruesome second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisation diverted its efforts toward a project called Local Heroes. Launched in April, Local Heroes is a nationwide hyperlocal initiative where volunteers source and distribute resources to hospitals and healthcare centres in need.
Through the initiative, the volunteer network of around 400 medical students, junior doctors, and business professionals across 58 cities in India have been distributing medical equipment for the treatment of Covid-19. “There was a lot of misallocation of resources, and misinformation being spread. We started with identifying reliable suppliers and connected them to the hospitals and individuals in need,” says Shah.
Over the course of the past three months, the initiative has helped around 3,200 healthcare workers with essentials like masks, gloves etc, and close to 30,000 patients across India with medicines, pulse oximeters, and other urgent requirements.
The NGO has also introduced a helpline for patients with mild Covid-19 symptoms on Instagram, which has a network of 20 doctors available for teleconsultations. This initially expanded to a 24X7 WhatsApp helpline and is now a microsite. “A lot of people needed help in the past few months. Our team of doctors has been serving in Covid centres while also providing teleconsultations to people in need. Our microsite called Umeed also provides extensive information on Covid-19,” Shah says.
As the second wave ebbs and the country starts to see a drop in the number of Covid cases, the NGO has turned its attention toward strengthening rural healthcare infrastructure. “The second wave has almost come to an end, and the urban Covid care centres are now finding it easier to source resources. But the problem still exists in rural areas, where many healthcare centres do not have enough equipment like ECG machines to diagnose cardiovascular diseases,” Shah explains.
Weekly meeting of World Youth Heart Federation. Dr. Dhrumil Patil, Dr. Devarsh Shah, Pratik Sarangi, Krittika Gogoi, Srushti Pawar, Yashasri Thakore leading Local Heroes Project; Dr. Nipun Nagpal, Pankhuri Sharma, Dr. Uma Gupta leading Covid-19 helpline; Dr. Jivitesh Satija, Dr. Nabeel PM, Dr. Ajit Singh, Dr. Shweta Poduval leading the deployment of ECG machines in rural India; Dr. Mamta Swaroop, Founder & President of Sadanah Foundation
Along with his team of doctors, Shah is now figuring out a structure to make ECG machines available to primary healthcare centres in rural India. “We plan to provide diagnostic tools like pulse oximeters and ECG machines to centres across remote areas. Our network of volunteers will also train the health care workers at these centres about the usage of ECGs, and our doctors will provide teleconsultation services to patients,” explains Shah.
The long-term focus of the World Youth Heart Federation is to strengthen the health care infrastructure primarily to tackle cardiovascular diseases. “One in four deaths is because of cardiovascular problems, which at times do not get diagnosed properly at rural health care centres because of lack of resources,” says shah. “Around 20,000 to 30,000 people rely on these centres for their health care needs, and having ESGs will help these centres better diagnose cardiovascular diseases. We’ll also provide teleconsultation options by our network of doctors to scan those reports and treat patients accordingly,” he adds.
Shah believes the next couple of months will be revolutionary for healthcare in India. “The second wave has put a spotlight on the gaps in India’s healthcare infrastructure. What should have been done over the last decade will now be streamlined within the next couple of months. This is the time for change,” says Shah, adding that all their initiatives going forward will be focused on improving rural health care. "Among many fundamental changes, digital consultation, cost and time-effective, is going to be the future of healthcare, and we want to strengthen that at the roots, starting with rural India."