This is a hugely challenging time for all of us,
wherever we live.
Businesses are shutting, social contact is being
severely restricted, and we are all worried about the health of our family and friends.
Our little charity feels a bit like an international
family with supporters spread right round the globe, so here in Kolkata we feel a real sense of solidarity with what you are going through in
Europe, North America and Australia. So I want to take this opportunity to send very best wishes to all of you from myself and the CR team and
let you know how we are facing up to this crisis.
Up until a fortnight ago we watched the spread of the
Covid-19 virus around the planet with great concern, but hoped we might be spared.
However, starting in February, we began working on a
plan for how we could continue to support our beneficiaries, protect staff, and reduce the spread of the disease, if it reached Kolkata. We knew
that if it reached us the impact would be very severe on our beneficiaries, given the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the slums where
they live and the fact that many already have serious illnesses. Then there is the poor diet, pollution and inadequate government health
We were very fortunate to be able to draw on the advice
of three UK NHS doctors, headed by Marcello Scopazzini, an ex-volunteer who now works as an infectious diseases specialist in Edinburgh.
The first priority was to warn people about the virus
and explain how they can protect themselves. For the past month we have run daily health education sessions at the clinics, in the slums where the
charity’s mobile clinics work, and in the schools. Posters were put up and a leaflet with targeted advice created to be given to everyone.
A handwashing regime was introduced across the charity, with staff and clients taught how to do this effectively.
With the first confirmed case in Kolkata last week it
became clear that we would have to face the virus too.
As a result, the government of West Bengal shut all its
schools, prompting us to close our two education centres too.
Realising that our wonderful international volunteers
could be trapped in Kolkata we helped ensure that they all got flights home. We will miss them very much.
On Friday we finalised the plan of how the charity would
operate the clinics over the coming period - trying to balance staff safety with the needs of our patients.
On Saturday we managed to get food parcels to hundreds
of our school children to supplement their meagre diets over the next few weeks. These included cooking oil, flour, lentils and soap.
Then on Sunday the government announced a week-long
lockdown in Kolkata from Monday. This involved closing all non-essential businesses and stopping all public transport.
Almost all of CR’s staff have long commutes on buses and
trains - so the team had to rapidly rethink the plan and decide what would now be now possible. On Monday we put together a skeleton
staff of 20 key people who will either walk to the clinics or will be ferried in by jeep.
Today they ran the two main clinics, Tala Park and
Nimtala, operating under the new procedures drawn up to minimise virus risk for the next few days. Street medicine staff prepared medicines to
be taken out to patients in slums around the city on Wednesday - so those who will have almost no access to government facilities will at least get
their medicines from CR.
We have already done this with most of our TB patients
on Monday and Tuesday.
Most patients needing wound-care have been shown how to
change their bandages at home and been given everything they need to do this for the next fortnight. Around 10 patients at Nimtala remain and will
be shown this on Wednesday.
We have set up a hotline and will be keeping in frequent
contact with the most needy patients by phone.
The Prime Minister has just announced lockdown till 15
April and the impact of continuing tight restrictions is likely to hit the poorest hardest, as they do not have savings to draw on, and need to
work to put food on the table each day. And food prices are also likely to increase.
So we will continually review the situation, monitoring
the needs of our beneficiaries, and seeing how we can fulfil them.
Even today, the first day of the lock-down, I was
stopped twice by police on my way to work, and our pharmacist, Shantanu, was turned back by them. I am very proud of the hard work and dedication
of all my colleagues and want to assure you that we will stay true to the spirit of Dr Jack and do all we can to care for our beneficiaries until
this crisis is over.
We are hugely grateful to all our supporters around the
We stand together in the face of the virus, and we will
overcome it. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers over the coming months, you will be in ours.
I promise to keep you updated regularly as the situation
develops here in Kolkata.