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How social media platforms have become ‘COVID-19 helplines’ to combat second wave in India

Several users are also requesting high-profile accounts to share resources only after personally verifying the authenticity.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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As India fights the second wave of COVID-19, hospital beds, oxygen supplies, blood plasma, and medicines are running scarce. So, several people are taking to social media by posting urgent requirements on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Users are flooding these platforms with appeals for urgent needs through posts, retweets, shares and story uploads to help distressed citizens in several cities across the country.

"Urgent bed required in Pune for a 70-year-old patient who has lung infection and low oxygen level," said one Instagram user in their story. The patient was able to access a hospital bed within four hours of circulating the message on social media, according to a subsequent update from the user.

Several users have also taken to social media to commend the solidarity and promptness among citizens. "I was able to provide important helpline numbers for remdesivir to my father's colleagues based in Kolkata from Twitter. My biggest thanks to the people providing valuable information here," said another user on Twitter.

Not just users but hospitals and healthcare workers have used the platforms to make their voices heard. "In these times of uncertainty and fear what helps is the power of communication.. let's open all channels of communication to reach out to teams, colleagues, families, our friends.." Dr Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director at Apollo Hospitals Group, tweeted.

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Reddy also urged for government intervention when movement of oxygen cylinders were halted in Haryana.

Online presence is helping spread the word quickly and easily, said Adwitiya Mal, co-founder of Dhoondh, a not-for-profit organisation that connects blood plasma donors with patients.

After Mal experienced a personal struggle last June to obtain blood units for his father, he decided to start the initiative via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, alongside a separate website.

Delhi-based Dhoondh receives over a thousand patient enquiries daily via Instagram and Twitter direct messages, and the website, a 75% jump from the June to November period last year. The surge prompted the founders to outsource their social media handles to professionals as requests soared. Instagram has proved to be the most helpful among all social media platforms to reach users in need, Mal told The Hindu.

The organisation uses an algorithm in its website to match patients with suitable plasma donors. While volunteers are still required to verify donor and patient credentials, Dhoondh aims to fully automate the process in the next few days, according to co-founder Mukul Pahwa, who handles the website’s technicalities from his residence in London.

The story is similar for Mumbai-based HelpNow, an emergency ambulance service company started by three engineering students. Instagram and Twitter users have helped spread awareness of the service, and its helpline number on those platforms in the past one year.

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Last week, Instagram reposts by users, along with Bollywood celebrities like Sonam Kapoor and Vaani Kapoor, helped push daily enquiries to over 600, according to Shikhar Agrawal, co-founder of HelpNow.

Users on the social networking platforms have also helped garner international attention, with people from Hong Kong, Sweden and Dubai offering support to the organisation, both monetarily and in kind. HelpNow will soon integrate Twitter’s bot system to its account, to assist with quick responses, Agrawal told The Hindu.

However, the spread of misinformation remains a challenge. Some documents being circulated contain invalid and outdated contact details. Several users are also requesting high-profile accounts to share resources only after personally verifying the authenticity. "Please verify the sources/numbers before you post them in any thread or share them. It’s incredibly harrowing to call up number after number only for them to be out of service, unavailable or switched off, and just ends up increasing the burden of the patient/attendant," a user said in a tweet.

Moreover, myths surrounding processes like plasma therapy and the use of remdesivir are also rampant online, Mal noted.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 2:58:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/social-media-platforms-become-covid-19-helplines/article34385237.ece

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