Dr. Biju Mathew has lost three friends to COVID-19 in India – two last year and one in 2021.
Now with the pandemic seemingly out of control in the South Asian nation, the psychiatrist at Ridge Meadows Hospital is worried about his family members in India as well as many friends.
Mathew has about 30 family members living in India, some close and some distant. Some he talks to routinely.
He is from Kerala, a state along the south west tip of the country. He has cousins who live there from his mother’s side of the family and his wife’s family also live there, including his mother-in-law.
Mathew also has many friends in Mumbai, one of the worst hit parts of India by the coronavirus.
“It’s a terrible thing because people cannot find the beds, you know? That’s a worry,” said Mathew of the situation in hospitals. Even getting an ambulance, he said, has become near impossible. And, the black market is thriving, selling everything from oxygen to medications.
Testing for the virus is spotty, he said. But, in some urban areas, like Mumbai the testing is good.
“But we don’t know the true nature of the testing in rural parts of India,” he said.
Mathew travelled extensively around India for more than three years researching and writing his first book Super 30: Changing The World 30 Students At A Time, about a mathematician named Anand Kumar who works with children from some of the most deprived areas of Bihar, one of the poorest states in the north eastern part of India.
Kumar coaches students – who would not otherwise have this opportunity – to get into the India Institute of Technology, which has one of the toughest entry exams in the world.
In 2016 it became one of the top selling books in India and was made into a movie, released July 2019, and was one of the highest-grossing Hindi-language films of the year – playing in 71 countries.
Kumar, Mathew updated, is now at home, and is working with some students online, but not directly.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, on Jan. 5, India reported 18,088 new cases of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period. On Feb. 5 in 24 hours the country had 11,713 new cases. On March 5 there were 18,284. April 5, that number increased dramatically to 96,982 new cases in a 24-hour period and on Wednesday, May 5, India reported a whopping 412,431 cases in 24 hours.
“They didn’t believe that this was going to happen. It hit them so hard and so fast,” said Mathew.
Now, he said, there is a lack of vaccines in India and treatment is hampered by a lack of oxygen, hospital beds, medications and health care professionals. Nurses and doctors, he noted, are “fully-stretched”.
The vaccine is not completely free in India. Some private hospitals have been charging between 150-250 rupees or, around $2.50-$4 CAD. At least 24 Indian states are now offering it for free, according to India Today.
There are heroes and shining stars out there in the pandemic, said Dr. Mathew – groups giving food and necessary items to help those that are suffering. Also, he said, others who will bury the dead, when no one wants to go near the bodies.
However, the true heroes, said Mathew, are the nurses, doctors, and hospital staff.
“Some have not gone home, they have been working day and night flat-out,” he said.
Many organizations are raising money to help provide oxygen, personal protective equipment and emergency medical supplies to those in need in India.
Mathew suggests The Association of Kerala Medical Graduates, AKMG, an organization that includes physicians with roots in India.
“There are over 3,000 doctors in North America belonging to this prestigious organization,” explained Mathew.
Or go to canadahelps.org to find a list of reputable charities raising money.