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Church groups prioritize lives as pandemic ravages India

'Now our religion is humanity as it connects us with God,' says Archbishop Thakur

Church groups prioritize lives as pandemic ravages India

Police stand guard on a deserted street as the government imposed a 10-day lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Hyderabad on May 13. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP)

The Catholic Church in India has responded to the second wave of Covid-19 with a priority to save lives as thousands die daily of the viral infection across the country.

“Our priority now is to save as many lives as possible,” said Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh state, where people’s movement is restricted because of a strict lockdown.

The archdiocese is reaching out to as many people as possible through neighborhood networks to provide food and medical help including arranging hospitals and getting patients admitted, he said.

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“Now our religion is humanity as it connects us with God,” the archbishop told UCA News.

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, Catholic activists helped migrant workers with cooked meals, drinking water and other basic requirements. “The priority has changed now,” he said.

As more than 300,000 people have been getting infected daily across India for almost a month, medical facilities are overwhelmed. Hospitals continue to report a shortage of staff, oxygen and medicines.

Our hospitals are full and we have no way to accommodate more patients

Despite best efforts, “many people die for want of medical care as hospitals including Catholic facilities are unable to accommodate even seriously affected people,” Archbishop Thakur said.

On May 12, India reported 4,120 Covid-19 deaths and 348,000 new cases, taking total cases to 23.7 million.

“Our hospitals are full and we have no way to accommodate more patients,” said Bishop Jose Chittooparambil of Rajkot in Gujarat state in western India, one of the worst-hit states.

“We are now busy equipping our clinics in villages with the minimum needed facilities and medicine to attend to Covid-19 patients. Critical patients are referred to nearby government-designated Covid-19 hospitals,” he said.

“We are providing medical care to people under trees and makeshift tents as our priority is to save as many lives as possible.”

Suspected patients who need home quarantine are provided accommodation in church buildings, he said.

Most village families live together in small mud houses where suspected patients cannot live in quarantine.  

Rajkot Diocese is distributing cooked food to 100 families where all members are infected and unable to prepare food.

Delhi Archdiocese, also badly hit by the pandemic, is in contact with families who have lost members and providing online counseling, said Father Savarimuthu Sankar, the archdiocesan spokesperson.

“We also distribute raw food to poor families through parishes to ensure they do not suffer because of job losses on account of the lockdown,” he said.

The archdiocese is helping Covid-19 patients who cannot return to their homes with temporary accommodation.

Our effort is to provide every help possible to ensure that no one dies without medical care for want of information

Bombay Archdiocese based in the capital of Maharashtra state has opened help desks providing counseling, medical assistance and help in finding hospital beds and ambulances to those needing critical care.

These desks also provide free medical consultancy with doctors, said Father Nigel Barrett, the spokesperson of Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay.

“Our effort is to provide every help possible to ensure that no one dies without medical care for want of information,” said the priest, who is among those coordinating archdiocesan efforts in one of the hardest-hit cities.

“Our work is not restricted to Catholics. It extends to everyone irrespective of caste, creed or religion,” Father Barrett told UCA News.

Catholic hospitals in Kerala state have spearheaded a movement against private hospitals trying to exploit the situation by overcharging for medical facilities.

“Our priority is to make health care affordable to the needy in this crisis when hospital beds are becoming scarce,” said Father Jacob Palackappilly, deputy secretary general of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC).

The bishops’ body has instructed Catholic hospitals to set an example by providing affordable medical care to everyone battling the pandemic.

The state High Court also criticized private hospitals charging exorbitant fees for Covid patients and asked the government to limit treatment charges. The government on May 10 set a cap on hospitals’ fees.

The KCBC also offers online counseling and help desks “as part of our initiative to be with the people,” Father Palackappilly told UCA News.

Some dioceses in Kerala also distribute to families a medical kit that contains a pulse oximeter, digital thermometer, inhaler, mask and sanitizer to help people monitor their health condition and rush to hospital only when necessary.

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