As one of the most populous countries in the world continues to battle its second wave of coronavirus outbreak after a record-breaking spike in daily cases during late April, a number of University of Michigan alumni in and with ties to India have stepped up to help, using their networks and skills to assist with COVID relief efforts.
Anjana Sastri completed her MBA at the Ross School of Business in 2019 and is now head of strategic initiatives at Canadian International School. She and other members of the school’s administrative and strategy teams noticed a need for a step down hospital facility in Bangalore, where CIS is based.
“For people with mild to moderate COVID symptoms, oxygen availability is crucial. As far as the additional medical monitoring that an ICU provides, those with the most severe symptoms, who need serious medical attention, should be the people with access to the limited number of hospital beds,” Sastri said. “But where is a person with milder symptoms supposed to go if the hospital is the only place they can get oxygen? We decided to help fill in the gap.”
As a boarding school, CIS currently has one-hundred-and-twenty beds—two in each of the sixty rooms on campus. CIS’s boarding facilities, which had closed at the beginning of the second wave, are open again—but with a new purpose.
“Given the acute shortage of beds across India, we decided to open our facility to the public, free of cost. Our partners at Cytecare Cancer Hospital have been excellent at managing the medical aspects of the facility, from personnel to medications. And the Bangalore chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization helped us raise the money we needed to purchase one-hundred-and-twenty oxygen concentrators,” Sastri said.
“This entire process was two weeks from ideation to execution. We had to work quickly, with the COVID situation being as dire as it is. We are glad to be able to help members of our CIS community as well as people from surrounding areas in northern Bangalore. A lot of folks have been making their way to our facility to get help.”
INOX Air Products is one of the largest manufacturers of medical-grade oxygen in India, and its director, Siddharth Jain, is an alum of U-M’s College of Engineering. Jain said that INOX has been running all of its manufacturing units around-the-clock “to ensure continuous production of oxygen for more than eight-hundred hospitals.”
“Altogether, INOX has manufactured and supplied more than four-hundred-thousand tons of medical oxygen for COVID treatment purposes in the last year, out of which more than sixty-thousand tons were manufactured and supplied in the month of April 2021 alone,” Jain said of the company’s production momentum.
Dhruv Gupta, a 2003 graduate in computer science and engineering, is a co-founder of the at-home, on-demand diagnostic testing company Orange Health. He explained that the company had been in the works when the pandemic hit and officially began operations just shy of a year ago.
“We saw about a thousand patients total over the course of our first three months. Now, we see a thousand patients every four or five days,” Gupta said. “Fifty days back, we had seven medics doing on-the-ground diagnostic testing. With the onset of the second wave, we’ve had to ramp up quickly, and we’ve grown to a team of about thirty medics who serve the city of Bangalore by readily administering at-home COVID tests and other health diagnostic tests as needed.”
Additionally, two alumni groups affiliated with the university—the U-M India Alumni Association and the India Advisory board—have collaborated to start a GiveIndia fundraiser for COVID relief in India. All proceeds go to a carefully selected list of non-governmental organizations, including KVN Foundation, Plan India, TeachforIndia, and Doctors for You.
“The university community has been very resourceful during this time of crisis,” said Narayan Ramachandran, chair of the India Advisory Board. “But the situation in India also highlights the importance of creating on-the-ground response systems we can activate in an emergency; systems informed by epidemiological and biostatistical research.”
“Despite the difficulties we’ve all faced in the past year—and despite the fact that the past few weeks have been especially challenging—we’re seeing people come together at a very critical time,” said UMIAA president Dhaval Mehta. “Alumni have been donating from India and around the world, as well as reaching out directly to see how they can help.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with UMIAA and see how you can help with COVID relief efforts in India.