Suburban Indian Americans fear for loved ones in COVID-ravaged homeland
Last weekend, Namrata Khare lost three extended family members to the COVID-19 illness rampaging throughout India.
Khare, of Palatine, has family members across the Uttar Pradesh region -- the epicenter of a second wave of the pandemic.
"You feel so helpless. There is only so much that you can do from here," said Khare, 54, an IT professional.
Like many suburban Indian Americans, Khare is trying to find ways to support people in her homeland through charities and with the help of elected officials here.
India has recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 cases in the last three days -- more than 17.6 million cases and nearly 200,000 deaths since the pandemic began. It reported 323,023 new cases Monday, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Hospitals in many urban centers, including India's capital of New Delhi, are overrun with patients, and the infrastructure is buckling under the pressure. A shortage of vaccine, hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and other equipment is crippling the nation's health care system.
"The only way you can get the (oxygen) cylinders is to pay a very high price or you have to know somebody," said Khare, who added people are scrounging for medical equipment and medicines to treat the virus using crowdsourcing through WhatsApp groups. "Families must go out and get the medicines to provide it to the hospitals because they don't have enough supplies."
While Khare's parents, who live in Gurgaon southwest of New Delhi, have been inoculated, she fears for their physical and emotional well-being because India's double-mutated strain is spreading like wildfire, even among those vaccinated.
Khare appealed to U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Schaumburg Democrat, who has been pushing the Biden administration to share unused AstraZenaca vaccines with India and other countries experiencing massive surges in infections.
"We've been getting texts, calls and emails from people all over (the U.S.)," said Krishnamoorthi, an Indian American immigrant and member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. "At this point, we have almost 60 million unused doses of AstraZenaca vaccine sitting in warehouses. There is no good reason why we should just allow them to go to waste."
The Food and Drug Administration has not authorized use of AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. The Biden administration has since pledged to share those doses with countries in need after initially promising only the raw materials for vaccine production and other supplies, Krishnamoorthi said.
Aid from a coalition of countries and the global community could be key to stemming the tsunami of cases in the region, he said.
"There is a lot that Indian Americans can do, including (supporting) the various fundraising campaigns to provide resources directly to people in India," he said.
Locally, some groups are purchasing and sending oxygen concentrators, ventilators, personal protective equipment and other vital supplies to hot spots in India.
The Oak Brook-based American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin appealed to its 18,000 members for monetary donations. The group, which represents 100,000 doctors in the U.S., is working with the Consulate General of India to supply lifesaving equipment.
"Today, we secured about 1,000 units of concentrated oxygen equipment (and) plan to ship it before the weekend to India," President Sudhakar Jonnalagadda said.
The association will provide additional equipment and supplies as needed, Jonnalagadda said. It also has established a tele-health service with 300 volunteer doctors providing COVID consultations to patients in India during the pandemic.
"We increased the (tele-health) platform this year so that we are able to help more people," Jonnalagadda said.
Members of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, the temple in Bartlett, also have been fundraising to help with COVID relief efforts in India.
BAPS Charities has been helping provide basic necessities, including distributing more than 600,000 meals, to people afflicted by COVID-19 in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, said Neeta Panchal, a volunteer from Buffalo Grove.
And,spaces within BAPS temples in those regions have been converted to accommodate temporary hospital beds and medical equipment.
"We have created a fundraiser to support this ongoing initiative," said Panchal, who added that money raised will help purchase necessary medical equipment and supplies.
Experts fear the second wave of the virus hasn't yet peaked and will claim millions more Indian lives unless the government launches mass vaccination campaigns and enforces stricter curfews to curb its spread.
"There's going to be a huge amount of loss of life, in the millions," said Sampath Kumar, an infectious diseases specialist at Advocate-Aurora Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. "It's going to be more than all the people who have died in the world right now."