Chennai NGOs use autos as makeshift ambulances to provide oxygen for COVID-19 patients

After being told by various officials of instances of people waiting without oxygen for such beds, she said she started the crowdfunding initiative
Image for representational image| Pic: Sourced
Image for representational image| Pic: Sourced

At a time when oxygen is on high demand amid the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, with people scampering for hospital beds with oxygen supply, a Chennai-based NGO is reaching out to the needy in makeshift ambulances with the life saving gas. Kadamai Educational and Social Welfare Trust is operating innovating auto ambulances, albeit in a smaller radius in the northern parts, but is fast turning out to be a much sought after service.

This "emergency auto ambulance" is also being used by patients home quarantined and in dire need of it. "A jumbo hospital oxygen cylinder from the clinic we run and another cylinder that we obtained from an industrial unit, both of 47 lt capacity, were fitted to two autos to provide oxygen to the people in north Chennai area, round the clock," T C Kumaraswamy, head, education department of the trust, told the media.

These emergency auto ambulances are operated by six persons on shift basis and they respond promptly to callers who seek medical oxygen to improve their oxygen levels. "Presently, we operate only within 15 km radius in north Chennai alone and we don't discourage callers seeking oxygen," Kumaraswamy said.

On an average, the trust receives about 150 to 200 calls a day. On Monday night, an ambulance ferrying a coronavirus patient ran out of oxygen and its driver approached the trust for help. "The 64-year-old patient from Royapuram was administered oxygen from our auto and he was taken to the hospital later," he added.

The service is restricted to patients who could sit comfortably in the auto, Kumaraswamy said. "We have been running the service successfully for the twelfth day today. We respond to requests also from people who have no access to ambulances or oxygen cylinders at home," C Vasantha Kumar, founder secretary of the trust said.

Further, another metro-based volunteer organisation has launched a "Help Chennai breathe" campaign, aimed at crowdfunding a sum of Rs three crore to provide equipment like 420 oxygen cylinders and 240 oxygen concentrators to five government hospitals in the city.

Gayathri Suryanarayanan of 'Samarpana' said she launched the initiative after her own experience with oxygen issues. "I tried nearly 25 hospitals to get a bed to treat my friend's father whose oxygen level dipped to 70, but couldn't get one. His life ended after a long wait. This was a personal loss to me," Suryanarayanan said.

In another instance, her friends grandmother, aged 75, waited for nearly 26 hours outside a hospital along with an oxygen cylinder, for a bed at a hospital. "Then I decided to procure oxygen cylinders for the poor patients desperately in need for oxygen but could not afford it. And they have nowhere else to go other than government hospitals," she said.

After being told by various officials of instances of people waiting without oxygen for such beds, she said she started the crowdfunding initiative. The effort has helped the organisation raise about Rs 25 lakh. Suryanarayanan immediately got into touch with the deans of the medical college hospitals here and offered help.

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