Rashida Bakait | India Tomorrow
BENGALURU—There is always a silver lining in the dark clouds. And Mercy Mission (MM) was that silver lining for Bengaluru city when the dark clouds of pandemic covered the city during the peak of Covid-19 pandemic.
The city of Bengaluru, with a population of more than one crore, including a large number of migrants and slum dwellers is a microcosm of the entire country. Realising the enormity and gravity of the challenges lying ahead, a group of NGO’s operating in Bengaluru across various fields and activities decided to pool in their resources. A handful of NGOs met for the first time on March 21, 2020 and agreed upon creating an informal coalition named “Mercy Mission” (MM) and agreed to work together to take the COVID fight head-on.
In the next few days, many other NGOs also joined the bandwagon. MM grew rapidly to become a coalition and collaboration of 25+ NGO’s. Some of the NGOs that came together to form Mercy Mission were HBS Hospital, The United Foundation, Project Smile, Lifeline Foundation, Humane Touch, Thanal, VCET, Humanitarian Relief Society, Swabhimaan, HWA trust, Palm Trust, Healing Touch, Cigma Foundation, Al-Ansaar Trust etc. These NGOs were already working in Bengaluru in different thematic areas such as health, education, microfinance, housing, food/ ration support, Relief etc.
Last year, the work of Mercy Mission NGOs commenced immediately with the distribution of dry ration kits and food kitchens. During lockdowns 1&2 (March 23 to May 31), MM NGOs distributed 83,000+ dry ration kits worth approximately Rs 8.5 cr to people living in 300 localities in Bengaluru & more than 25 towns across Karnataka. Also, MM NGOs and affiliated groups operated 33 Mercy Kitchens across Bengaluru where they cooked and distributed 14.5 lakh food packets. MM volunteers additionally picked up and facilitated distribution of 12.3 lakh food packets given by donors such as Wipro, Atria, Compass, Prestige, BBMP etc.
Mercy Mission operated the sole ambulance service for transport of COVID deceased in Bengaluru. Mercy Angels have performed the last rites of than 1800 COVID victims from different religious communities in Bengaluru. MM NGOs also supplied free medicines, distributed PPE kits to front-line workers, carried out medical camps, elder care and blood bank activities during the lockdown period. Since last year, awareness campaigns on COVID and social distancing are being run by MM in the slum areas in tandem with government authorities. In the months of June-Aug 2020, MM continued expanding its scope and responded to emergent needs. MM opened a free online clinic to provide sound medical advice to all. As COVID cases started increasing in the city, MM operated Oxygen centres across Bengaluru providing oxygen cylinders free of charge till patients were able to source scarce hospital beds. One of its core NGOs, HBS Hospital, started providing COVID services with 56 beds in July 2020. MM facilitated HBS to open and operate an Oxygen Centre serving 32 patients (recovered or with mild symptoms) close to the hospital. In August 2020, MM commenced co-ordinating plasma donations and recipients in the city.
The year 2020 ended but Mercy Mission was still striving to save lives as year 2021 again witnessed the surge in deaths due to the second wave of COVID. Dwelling on the present scenario in Bangalore, Ali Sharief, MM, secretary said, `Unfortunately, we had to upscale Mercy Angels operations in April due to surge of deaths in the city. In April alone, we have done 250 last journeys, based on one’s faith, to crematoriums, cemeteries and burial grounds. Three hearse vans and 29 volunteers are working incessantly to meet the demand.’’ He further informed that various teams of volunteers including Al Ansaar trust are working across town providing this service. Vans have been provided by Halai Memon Jamath, Project Smile and HBS Hospital for this activity.
Given the huge shortage of Oxygen, MM is currently operating six Mercy Oxygen Centres across Bengaluru. Since 14th April, there was a huge surge in demand with 9,654 requests, but a total of 837 cylinders have been dispatched. A volunteer team of 18 are handling the six Oxygen centres. Mercy Mission launched a free Mercy Clinic Mobile App to give sound medical advice, right information and guidance to people. A total of 11 doctors have been enrolled who are providing online video consultations. In April, 108 free consultations were given, benefitting 64 patients.
Mercy Mission commenced coordinating plasma donors and recipients separately. During the first wave, 550 patients received plasma. Since April 2021, the demand had surged and it received 689 request and the NGO was able to provide 197 units. Project Smile and TUF organised Antibody Testing Camps along with Jeevan Raksha and 35 potential plasma donors were identified out of this drive.
Ali Sharief said, `To reduce the burden of exorbitant pricing for ambulance services to patients, MM has a total fleet of seven ambulances equipped with Oxygen to transport patients. ‘’
He further added that Project Smile is operating, managing and maintaining the operations of the Ambulance fleet. A total of 127 trips were made in April. Nominal charges on a not-for-profit basis are recovered to enable operational sustainability. Two ambulances are now being fitted with Ventilators to enable inter-city ICU transfers.
MM has also developed a modern, hygienic kitchen facility in order to prepare nutritious full meal for frontline warriors (doctors & hospital staff), COVID patients and the poor.
MM has also worked towards door-to-door awareness and invitation. Vaccine awareness campaigns and talks have been done by Lifeline Foundation across 15 slums. Vaccination camp was conducted by one of the member NGOs- HWA Foundation on 29th April 2021. Free vaccination was provided by BBMP and 47 people got vaccinated. HBS Hospital also got permission to work as a Vaccination centre.
To make it accessible during emergencies, a centralized public helpline was set-up by MM and operated by Project Smile, in association with TUF to reach out to the patients requiring ambulance, oxygen, plasma and guidance services. A team of 50 volunteers and 20 staff are operating the helpline. “We have received 51,943 calls during the month, of which 21,327 are unique numbers. We have been able to respond to 8,177 calls in the month,’’ said Ali Sharief.
With the support of APPI, MM also facilitated HBS Hospital to open and operate an oxygen centre having 32 rooms. “This centre hosted patients recovering from COVID who were fit for discharge but needed close monitoring. It helped enhance hospital capacity and free beds for critical patients. During the first wave, 250+ patients benefitted from it. With the surge in demand in the second wave, this model, now adopted and renamed by government as “Step Down Hospital” was opened on April 30, 2021,’’pointed out Ali Sharief.
One of the MM NGOs, HBS Hospital, again became a dedicated COVID facility in April with 50 beds. In April, HBS has served 250 patients and is a leading COVID hospital in Bengaluru. It is also among the few hospitals providing dialysis to COVID patients.