Update: Clinic Staff and Community Volunteers Battle Coronavirus

Local children use one of the new handwashing stations

Staff from the Sambhavna and Chingari clinics, along with community volunteers, are now providing essential medical care to local residents in Bhopal after the Indian Government announced a three-week country-wide lockdown last Tuesday to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The first case of Covid-19 in the city was confirmed last Monday, with several more confirmed over the past week.

Before the lockdown took effect staff from the clinics, recognising the increased threat of coronavirus to survivors of the gas disaster, many of whom suffer from respiratory conditions and other underlying health conditions, had already taken steps to prevent its spread. These included distributing flyers with information to local residents, as well as installing public handwashing stations, simply but ingeniously designed and built from wooden sticks and plastic bottles with a string allowing them to be operated by foot.

Since the government announced the lockdown on Tuesday, staff from the clinics have continued to train local community volunteers and provide critical medical support to help prevent the spread of the virus. Following the closure of the Chingari clinic to safeguard the children receiving care, staff are now using the vans usually used to transport the children to and from the clinic as transport for medical staff to visit and train local community volunteers and treat those displaying symptoms at their homes. Chingari founder Rashida Bee has also announced plans to use the vans to deliver food, medicine and other essentials items to those trapped at home without access to supplies.

A doctor trains a community volunteer to use a thermometer

Due to the fact that many residents of the shantytowns around the factory lack access to technology, as well as a lack of clarity from the government on what measures individuals should take to safeguard themselves, information is as essential as treatment for preventing the spread of the illness in Bhopal. For this reason staff from the clinics have printed flyers to distribute among local residents with information on how the virus is spread and advice on how to properly self-isolate during the lockdown. They are also training community volunteers responsible for sharing information with local residents, ensuring they are observing the lockdown, and identifying those displaying symptoms and requiring treatment.

While staff from the clinics continue to work tirelessly to safeguard survivors and other local residents, the state government has announced plans to requisition the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre for use as a Covid-19 treatment facility. The BMHRC is the primary hospital for treatment of gas affected individuals in the city, having opened in 2001 by direct order of the Supreme Court of India. Survivor groups in the city are protesting the move, as while support for coronavirus victims remains an urgent priority in the city, the move would leave many already critically ill survivors without access to proper medical care. We will provide further updates on the situation as it develops.

We wish to thank all the staff and volunteers at the clinics, as well as all the community volunteers and local residents, for their incredible efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Bhopal. Their selfless efforts in these difficult times will no doubt save countless lives.

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We believe Dow must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.