Dear friends of Calcutta Rescue,
This is a hugely challenging time for all of us, wherever we live. Businesses are shutting, social contact is being severely restricted, and we are all worried about the health of their family and friends.
Our little charity feels a bit like a family with supporters spread right round the globe and other parts of India, so here in Kolkata we feel a real sense of solidarity with what you are going through. So I want to take this opportunity to send very best wishes to all of you from myself and the CR team and let you know how we are facing up to this crisis.
– Jaydeep Chakraborty / CEO
Situation in India
The first case of Covid-19 was recorded in India on 30 January. When the CR team drafted its first Covid-19 internal guideline in the 1st week of March, the number had risen to 30. In the two weeks since, and especially in the last few days, cases have accelerated at an alarming rate. The first cases in West Bengal (WB), and Kolkata were detected on March 18 (see https://www.mohfw.gov.in/ for up-to-date India related information.)
Starting in February, we began working on a plan for how we could continue to support our beneficiaries, protect staff, and reduce the spread of the disease.
The first priority was to warn people about the virus and explain how they can protect themselves. So in February, we started running daily health education sessions at the clinics, in the slums where the charity’s mobile clinics work, and in the schools. Posters were put up and a leaflet with targeted advice created to be given to everyone. A handwashing regime was introduced across the charity, with staff and clients taught how to do this effectively.
In addition CR finalised the plan of how the charity would operate during the coronavirus threat – trying to balance staff safety with the needs of our patients. We are very grateful for the advice of three UK doctors on how best to do this.
When the state government announced the closure of educational institutes on 14 March, CR’s Governing Council decided that our education centres should also close.
Children came in on Monday 16 March and were informed of CR’s decision to remain closed until 15 April. That week teachers worked in the schools – doing lesson planning, working on question banks and designing worksheets. They also managed to create food packages for the children to collect to help supplement their meagre diets at home. In light of the government advice to cease all non-essential travel, teachers have remained at home and have kept in touch with students by telephone. Those families who don’t have phones are being contacted through CR’s area helper or parent council member in their slum.
Teachers are creating videos to teach students and using WhatsApp to share question sheets and to mark homework.
The school social worker and the school career counsellor have been providing psychological support to parents and children who are having to spend all day cooped up together, often with seven or eight people in a single room.
Following the announcement that schools will remain shut until June 10, staff have been drawing up detailed lesson plans for each week until then.
Luckily, all CR 16 years olds completed their board exams. The Chief Minister announced on 21 March that the Higher Secondary exams at 18 years of age will be suspended, which had begun a few weeks ago. Five of our students are midway through these exams and we await to hear how this will be handled.
Our objectives are
- to prioritise serving our existing most needy patients
- to protect staff by reducing patient density, improving social distancing and providing adequate protection.
In summary for all clinics:
- we have been providing patients with medicines and benefits for 8 weeks, whenever possible, instead of the usual 2 or 4 weeks, to minimise risk of infection
- The lockdown has led to the clinics either remaining closed or only opening for very limited periods, with priority patients given time-slots to attend.
- Staff are using CR’s vehicles to deliver vital drugs and food to patients, with priority given to those with greatest need
Tala Park Clinic
Staff developed a plan to allow CR’s main clinic to operate as safely as possible during the coronavirus threat. This involved extending the working area out into the parking area and to the adjacent Tala Park School which shut the week before the lockdown began.
However, with few patients able to reach the clinic due to the lockdown, and with concerns from local residents about staff or patients potentially bringing the virus into the area, the clinic has remained closed to patients for all bar a few days.
Instead it has become the main focus for CR’s medicine and food resupply operation. Staff who live locally are packaging the drugs and foodstuffs to be ferried out to hundreds of patients living across Kolkata and in the surrounding rural areas.
Half of the 30 patients who normally visit this clinic each day come to have wounds dressed. All wound-care patients were taught how to dress their own wounds at the start of the lockdown and given two weeks’ supply of dressings. When that ran out they were called back to the clinic individually so their wounds could be checked and they could be given more dressings to do themselves.
To minimise the chance of spreading the virus at this small clinic, non-woundcare patients have been referred to government health services for the duration of the lockdown.
Prior to the lockdown the two street medicine teams had focused on doing coronavirus-related health education in all slums where they work. As the threat from the virus increased, the mobile ambulances started to attract lots of people with coughs and chest complaints who wanted to be tested for coronavirus. CR does not have the ability to do this.
The fact that people with possible symptoms were congregating around the mobile ambulances, and growing disgruntlement that we could not do testing led to the decision to stop all visits by the ambulances.
Instead individual members of the team are taking medicine and benefits out to patients when they need them.
TB patients are given time slots to come to the clinic to collect medicine, to minimise social contact.
Patients are also being given as many doses as possible, so they only have to come to the clinic every week or two.
The government is no longer supplying free TB medicines, so CR is sourcing this direct from drug companies.