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Where Did We Miss The Bus In The Fight Against Covid-19 And How Do We Get Out?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

*Trigger Warning: Covid Deaths*

A 3-year-old kid lost his mother to COVID-19. The child wanted to hug his mom one last time. He couldn’t. Then there’s a 50-year-old couple praying for their 22-year son’s falling pulse rates to improve. They know prayer won’t help, but that is their last hope to save their only son.

Unfortunately, the actual condition on the ground is much worse than what these indicate. And hate me for saying this, but the situation will worsen in the coming days. If what we are witnessing now is hard, what we have in store is horrible before things turn better.

Covid Deaths Burila
People bury the bodies of victims who died due to COVID-19 at a graveyard in New Delhi, India, April 16, 2021 (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui). Source: flickr

As we see, disease, death and desperation everywhere, two questions need to be asked:

First, how shall we get out of this? Unfortunately, there is no magic wand. More rapid vaccination, increasing crucial drugs, medical oxygen availability, importing critical drugs, bringing in more private sectors, leveraging Telemedicine, asking for foreign aid, containment measures to slow down spread — all these would collectively help reduce at least the worst consequences of the pandemic. 

Also, we need collective efforts across nations, races, class to fight the danger. Again, as it is easier said than done, it is a humongous task.

The second question, perhaps more important and more relevant than the first one, how did we arrive at this situation? Where did we miss the bus in the fight against COVID-19?

Covid-19 has become sufficiently older for us to do proactive planning. The gap after the first wave, development of vaccines, idea on possible medications to treat, the mode of spread, the experience of other countries like Brazil — all were there, bare in front of our eyes, giving us ample time to plan, prepare and fight the pandemic in its second outing. 

Health experts and scientists were giving warnings of the emergence of a second wave. A parliament panel warned about oxygen shortage almost a year ago. But it never figured into calculations of the ruling class. 

Election rallies continued haphazardly; Kumbh was given the go-ahead (held after a gap of 11 years, instead of 12 years as traditionally done, for reasons you can guess), containment measures were totally ignored, which naturally took the need for precautions out of public consciousness. Even those who were taking precautions earlier started neglecting.

More importantly, considering the ill-equipped capacity of the nation’s poor health infrastructure, the only way we could have avoided the crisis turning into catastrophe was rapid vaccination and procuring critical drugs and other medical equipment in advance. While the U.S., EU were finalising deals for vaccine procurement in advance, the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world fell awfully short of vaccines.

India Faces Oxygen Crisis As Covid-19 Cases Mount
As Covid-19 cases continue to surge in India people are struggling to get hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, injections and medicines. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

While countries were tightening their seatbelts for the upcoming second wave, what were we doing?

We were prematurely hailing our leader for victory against the pandemic, branding those raising questions as anti-nationals. We were so engrossed in propaganda that we forgot to rate the government on performance. We preferred to believe WhatsApp forwards over authentic data and chose to blindly trust a single leader over processes of democracy.

The result? In just 2 weeks, the world’s largest democracy and enormous bureaucracy (ostensibly called the steel frame of the nation) crumbled, collapsed and became clueless in the battle against the pandemic. We are pushed into a spiral hole with disease, death, desperation and no way to turn back. We are witnessing a man-made disaster.

The tragedy we are witnessing is nothing but a classic case of unresponsive institutions, insensitive rulers and misguided public. There is no better recipe for disaster than this. If you have a doubt, pick up any history book.

Fortunately, like all disasters, this too shall pass. But unfortunately, like in all disasters, many of us will not make it to the end. We can’t bring the lives back. But surely, we can a take lesson from this: lesson to hold our leaders accountable, to not blindly worship leaders, to choose not a “strong” but a sensitive leader, to question those in authority. That is the only silver lining we can hope from this tragedy.

Coming back to our second question on where we missed the bus in the fight against COVID-19: we did not miss the bus; we were never looking for it in the first place.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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