Community Service

By Dr. Devika Brendon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 9 2021
Columns Community Service

By Dr. Devika Brendon 

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent A part of the main... Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.” - John Donne 

The months of September and October are likely to be the most challenging of the entire pandemic. Now the population are being vaccinated at a rapid rate, with many vaccination centres operating long hours, and reports are coming in of how efficient and stress free the process is, with the younger citizens aged between 18 and 30 being able to book their vaccines through an online portal, and being assured that there are enough vaccines to go around, and no shortages. 

There is now enough data available, 20 months into the pandemic, to make it clear that vaccination is what makes the difference between getting this illness so seriously that you cannot breathe without help; and getting a milder version of it which does not inevitably result in hospitalisation and death. It is also clear that all the different kinds of vaccine available are effective in lessening the severity of the impact of the virus on the human body.

 It is important to note that the double dose of every vaccine appears to provide far better protection against hospitalisation than one dose alone, and that it is important to wait the optimal length of time after the vaccine is given (3-5 weeks, depending on which vaccine you get), for best results. 

It is also important that people who have been vaccinated understand the need to continue to practise social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene protocols, even within their own homes to protect vulnerable family members, whose immunity levels are lower, for many months to come. I say September and October are the danger zone because although the current vaccination rates are excellent, it will take that amount of time for immunity to develop in the whole community. The current lockdown, although difficult for many, economically, and socially frustrating for everyone, will definitely help to incrementally decrease the numbers of infected people, in conjunction with the vaccinations. 

By October/November, the terrible news reports will decrease in volume and intensity. By Christmas and New Year, we may be able to meet in small groups, our vaccination cards laminated for ease of use, because no more booster shots will be required. The huge burden on our doctors and nurses and health care professionals will ease. 

They are currently working extremely long hours, and putting themselves at risk every day to assist the community, despite having family and loved ones of their own. This is a battle. This is why where they work is called a front line. Our health care heroes, as they are called on Social Media, are extremely dedicated and skilled. But they are, while dealing with this unprecedented global crisis, like health care professionals all over the world, under resourced and under equipped. 

Feeling helpless

 It’s easy to feel helpless in this crisis situation. But even though we are not medically qualified, we as a community can help our medical professionals in their task, in effective and timely ways, through targeted donations. We can equip them to do their optimal work, in the frontline of this battle against this transmissible disease. Community groups like the Rotary Clubs of Sri Lanka have effective organisational infrastructure, and strong relationships across different social sectors which have been developed over collaborations through many years, and their members are therefore in a good position to mobilise and help support the country’s public hospitals. 

A fine example of this embodiment of the Rotary ideals of ‘service above self’ is the dedicated efforts of the Rotary Club of Colombo Regency, who collaborated with the SEALA (South East Asia Leadership Academy) global network, to raise thousands in US currency to donate much needed and expensive equipment such as Multipara monitors, syringe pumps and pulse oximeters, to Panadura, Kegalle and Diyatalawa Hospitals, as part of their Covid Relief Initiative. 

This is a humanitarian campaign which is structured in phases. This has involved strategic planning and co-operation with multiple local and overseas partners, as well as fund raising. 

To be an effective donor you must be financially organised enough to be able to give donations to a particular hospital over a period of several months, as the need for medical resources and equipment is very great in the regional areas of the country, and giving must be sustained as well as generous, in order for the hospital facilities to be developed to optimally support incoming patients.

 Challenges 

Other voluntary community service organisations such as Zonta Club II of Colombo have also raised substantial funds for their Emergency Health Care Project, and have done so using the powerful instruments of social and personal connections, going back to school and college days, in ways that directly reach the people who are in most need of them, with ventilators, oxygen flow regulators and other vital respiratory facilitation equipment. 

Kalubowila and Ragama Hospitals, serving large numbers of people, have been enabled to build dedicated Covid wards with full facilities, through the auxiliary assistance of Zonta. Private individuals and families are responding to the challenges presented by the pandemic by giving large amounts to uplift the local hospitals throughout the country. 

Outside the hospitals, Good Samaritan projects are raising money to be able to give essential food and basic items to people who are facing hunger due to lack of paid work over the past several months. People with credibility in the community and with a track record of personal integrity are entrusted by their friends and colleagues to collect funds in an accountable and transparent way, and to distribute these essential items to those in need, the most vulnerable. Social Media has played a significant role in conveying the requests for assistance from hospitals and medical personnel, and via WhatsApp groups and FB posts and Tweets by people with large followings the links between those in need and those with funds to offer are effectively made. Social Media’s stated objective, to foster and facilitate community connections and bonds, has come into operation in actual fact. Equipment was sourced, paid for and delivered within 72 hours. Credibility and a reputation not as a do gooder or a virtue signaller, but as a person who is motivated to ease the suffering of others in a time of crisis, anxiety and real physical, economic and social need, is the best currency in this era. Recognition of how interconnected we all are is vital. ‘Each life saved, is a family saved’, as the Zonta group I spoke with told me. These organisations are effective in doing the needful because people all over the world place trust in service organisations like this, who have long term track records in supporting women and children, under the motto ‘Honest and Trustworthy’. Each human life is valuable. Each human being has dignity. Most especially, let us support, at this time, and incrementally, the dedicated efforts of our health care professionals, and the patients whose lives they work so hard to save. Let us not send to ask for whom the bell tolls. Whether we know the names of those suffering and succumbing in this crisis or not, their loss is our loss.

By Dr. Devika Brendon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 9 2021

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