Shonal Rath, Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
for Great Britain and Ireland;
As I stepped into the Smile on Wheels van and started speaking with the doctors on board, I realized how hard our doctors and non-profits have been working in these tumultuous times. A massive line of beneficiaries approached the van one by one, and the doctors conducted their OPD with such ease. I was visiting the van to conduct collaboration research on how post-COVID recovery requires resilience-building and prepping for any subsequent waves of the COVID-19.
I appreciate that even with limited resources, they have been able to ensure sustainable livelihoods, and Smile Foundation has all its operations in place. By focussing on the most vulnerable people, such as the women, children, and the disabled, they are employing the defined strategy of the trickle-down effect. These communities have been the most downtrodden and stuck hardest by the adversities of the pandemic. As per research, there was a 45% loss of jobs in female workers compared to men and 65% of the youth aged 14-25 compared to those aged 26-45.
Contributions made by Smile on Wheels vans
“I have never had such convenience of access to medicines and medical consultations since I lost my job,” says Ms. Asha. She is a migratory worker serving domestic households. There was a sense of satisfaction and an air of confidence among these beneficiaries. This has been their support system throughout the pandemic. During the second wave, there was a shortage of medicines, oxygen cylinders, and disarray in the functioning of healthcare. However, non-profit initiatives strategically located their limited supplies to aid the communities.
“In the second wave, my husband was susceptible to the virus. We waited in long lines, but they would always tell us to come back some other day. We never received the treatment we needed. With this van in place, we are getting timely assistance,” shares the contented Ms. Durgawati. The Smile Foundation has been catering to regions such as Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon, and other remote locations in NCR. It serves hundreds of patients and beneficiaries in these areas.
Smile on Wheels van: A blessing in disguise
All these people have been at the mercy of over-burdened public health facilities during the course of the pandemic. They are at higher risk of COVID as well as non-COVID related ailments. For the time being, we all need to be clear that even if we all wear masks and the government continues vaccinating people, the pandemic will still continue to spread. We need to make all the effort to stop short of another terrible COVID wave and lockdown.
We must maintain optimism that even with the spread of the virus, we must brace ourselves for a possible third wave. Our frontline workers, doctors, police officers, and the operating non-profits will discover every drop of superhero blood to save the sick. The most crucial necessity of the hour is to secure the economic stability and well-being of the weak, whom we failed miserably the last time around.
In the past, pandemics have shown that they occur in waves, that systems must be awake throughout each wave, and that tracking viral changes is critical. Arguments of “natural immunity” must also be avoided because India lost 40 million people between 1817 and 1920 due to the cholera, plague, and influenza pandemics.
Those sobering figures, as well as the sorrow, death, and suffering experienced by COVID-19’s second wave, should serve as a cautionary lesson for pandemic planners. “We have already failed before. If a third wave attacks us, only these non-profits have a way to cater to us,” is the common opinion among all these beneficiaries about the Smile on Wheels van.