India’s frontline Covid warriors


Along with the nation’s armed forces, the country witnessed many people who came out in the open to launch a fighting front against the Covid second wave, wised up by the earlier experience. Manu Shrivastava records how they rallied to bring the situation under control and presents Nandurbar as a case study in the effective management of the scourge.

As India grapples with the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 infection, the frontline workers have been on their toes saving lives. The pandemic, however, has also brought to fore ‘heroes’ who have risen to the occasion to help their brethren in such trying times. Several men and women from all walks of lives have stepped forward during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide financial, material and emotional support to those who have faced the brunt of the coronavirus infection in India.

In the beginning, the Covid-19 infection affected cities and urban pockets but during the second wave India’s rural zones got badly affected too. There have been unfortunate deaths but some positive success stories too that keep the collective morale of the nation high. In Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district, the response to Covid-19 crisis was efficient and different from the rest of the country.

Robust administration helped tackle COVID-19

At a time when the media was busy carrying stories of shortage of medical facilities and infrastructure throughout India during the second wave, Nandurbar was displaying reverse trends of sorts. Not only did the tribal district ensure sufficient beds and oxygen supply for its people, the fact that they managed their own situation so effectively enabled Nandurbar throw open its resources to provide relief for patients from neighbouring zones too.

And, all this primarily because of the efforts of Nandurbar’s dynamic District Collector Dr Rajendra Bharud, who with his team, ensured the people of his district were well taken care of during the crisis. Despite a population of over 16 lakh of which 70 per cent was tribal, Nandurbar didn’t face any shortage of medical facilities needed for the treatment of Covid-19 infection. In fact, it went on to boast of vacant beds and sufficient oxygen-producing capacity for Covid-19 treatment. All of this when it happens to be one of the poorest districts on the health index under the central government’s Transformation of Aspirational Districts Programme.

Under the leadership of Dr Bharud from neighbouring Dhule and a few dedicated administrative staff, healthcare workers, doctors and volunteers, things changed for better in the district. It was during the first wave of the pandemic that the 2013 batch IAS officer Dr Bharud, armed also with a medical degree, began work towards making the district fully self-sufficient in terms of amenities needed for Covid-19 treatment.

“I wanted to be prepared in case we witnessed something similar,” says Dr Bharud talking about the time when cases were going down in India but surging in countries like Brazil and USA. It’s important to point out that before the Covid-19 crisis hit India, Nandurbar didn’t have a single liquid oxygen plant or oxygen tank. “Because of the work done by this super-efficient team, we are relieved that if needed we are self-sufficient in terms of medical care,” says a local nurse who has seen the state of affairs at Ground Zero.

In September 2020, “we installed the first oxygen plant in the district which could produce 600 litres of oxygen per minute,” offers Dr Bharud speaking of the time when there weren’t too many cases in the district. The plant was installed at the district hospital at an expense of Rs 85 lakh. Later, two more such plants were set up to make the district self-reliant for oxygen requirements.

Preparing for the future

“As single-day cases touched 1,200 in April, we started preparing to install the third one. Soon, we will have plants with a combined capacity of 3,000 litres per minute,” said Dr Bharud.

Today, with a robust health infrastructure that transformed within a span of a year, Nandurbar boasts of vacant hospital beds, a central control room, live dashboard, mobile swab collection facilities, oxygen plants and a plan to increase testing. Nandurbar, under the leadership of district collector Dr Bharud battled the second wave of Covid-19 with much ease at a time when India’s financial capital Mumbai reeled under severe infrastructure stress.

In fact, many patients from neighbouring districts and states such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been coming to Nandurbar for treatment now. “My immediate focus is to prepare the ground for a third wave, with a target of taking the bed capacity to 1,600,” adds Dr Bharud. According to data from the State Health Department, Nandurbar had administered more than 1,58,707 vaccine doses till the first week of May 2021.

‘Super’ saviour helped the helpless

Any mention of Covid superheroes is incomplete without reference to actor Sonu Sood who, during the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis, helped transport thousands of migrant workers to their native towns and villages. In fact, the actor tested positive for Covid on 17 April 2021, ten days after receiving the vaccine and, soon enough tested negative too.

Reel and real-life hero, Sonu Sood was moved by the plight of millions of migrant workers who left cities like Mumbai when they were left completely stranded during a pandemic that shook the nation to its core. “It gave me sleepless nights when I saw visuals of people walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their villages,” he says.

After the national lockdown was imposed on 25 March 2020, while the rest of the nation stayed indoors glued to their television sets and gadgets for news on the global crisis, migrants were left stranded – confused and helpless.

Visuals and news of migrant workers walking thousands of kilometres carrying their children, luggage were disturbing. It was then that actor Sonu Sood got actively involved in ensuring transportation for the migrant workers to their home states. He arranged for food packets for people in the slums in Mumbai and hundreds of buses for the stranded migrants and their families to take them to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, etc. Not only this, he has also come forward to set up a Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) plant at the district hospital in the backward Atmakur town of SPSR Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.

India’s military rushes help citizens

Throughout the history of independent India, the nation’s armed forces have always been at the forefront when it comes to helping the citizens during national crises, emergencies and natural disasters.

So, this time around, when the Covid-19 crisis hit the nation, the armed forces swung into action one more time with their 1.5 million trained personnel deployed across the nation performing myriad tasks.

Today, especially during the second wave, armed forces have deployed their personnel who have been working tirelessly to transport and bring medical oxygen, life-saving medical equipment, critical medicines, making treatment facilities and field hospitals, other health infrastructure, even providing aid to India’s friendly neighbours.

At a time when the supply chain has been disrupted because of the pandemic, the warships and warplanes have been deployed that form part of the military’s robust and expansive logistic network for the supply chain. Trained personnel not only expedited the supply process but also helped repair medical equipment where needed.

The Indian Air Force carried out 534 sorties from various parts of the country and 84 international sorties to transport cryogenic oxygen storage containers and other medical equipment that were procured from Dubai, Thailand, Singapore, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Indonesia and Israel.

Manu Shrivastava

Manu Shrivastava is a media legal researcher with DraftCraft International, and co-convener of ‘The Woman Survivor’ initiative that documents abuse of women and children within families.