Philanthropy in the time of pandemic
At Health at Home the phone lines open at 7am ever day. Within minutes the calls start coming in. Five volunteer doctors are online to take the average 500 calls a day from people all over the country concerned about coronavirus symptoms.
Dalle Momo, the dumpling company, prepares 250 meals a day at its central kitchen at Ratopul and distributes them to security personnel enforcing the lockdown at intersections across Kathmandu, to frontline health workers at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, and homeless people in the Valley.
Zonta Club of Kathmandu also prepares food packages and has partnered with several NGOs to distribute daily 1,000 meals to daily-wage earners who are out of jobs. Each packet includes basic food items like rice, lentil, salt, sugar, tea, and oil.
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The private sector and non-profit organisations have all been stepping up their activities to help security forces, health workers and daily-wage workers since the nation-wide lockdown began on 24 March.
Bishal Dhakal, founder of Health at Home, says he started the call-in service since people across the country -- especially those in rural areas with no direct access to doctors, decided to set up a telephone triage service so that people can get a free counseling from medical professionals about their symptoms. Health at Home partnered with Ncell so that the incoming calls can be free.
At a time when public concern about the pandemic is high the service has not only been a way for people to talk to doctors about their symptoms, but also a source of reassurance.
“It has become like a counselling platform,” Dhakal says of the telephone triage. “This has been a support network for people in that it has helped with people dealing with the anxiety and stress that they might be feeling during this time.”
The call-in service helps screen potential COVID-19 patients for testing and take the pressure off of hospitals as they tend to get overcrowded with patients suspecting they have the coronavirus, which in turn increases the risk of infections spreading more widely.
Subhash Gauchan, co-founder of Dalle Momo, says his company began providing meals with the intention of using its remaining stock of raw material to feed whomever they could instead of letting it go to waste. But then it evolved into something bigger.
“A lot of people have come forward and asked how they could help,” Gauchan told Nepali Times over the phone. “They have been stepping up to provide fresh vegetables, which is what we need the most. So, we decided that we would continue doing this for as long as we are able.”
Although Nepal seems to have been spared from a more aggressive spread of the coronavirus so far, Nepalis are set to be significantly affected financially by the pandemic, with daily-wage workers bearing the brunt of the economic fallout. Non-profits like the Zonta Club of Kathmandu have been reaching out to daily wage workers affected by the lockdown.
Zonta’s Kamal Kesari Tuladhar says people have constantly been reaching out to offer help and that they were able to raise Rs1.5 million in 2 days. “My initial target was 300 food packages, but the response has been so overwhelming that we are distributing 1,000. As long as the help keeps coming, we will continue this, because people need it.”
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Siddhant Pandey, CEO of the private equity company Business Oxygen, says private sector philanthropy is more important than ever in these unprecedented times. But some companies that have tried to gain widespread publicity from their ‘corporate social responsibility’ have been trolled in social media for seeking promotion mileage rather than genuinely helping.
But Pandey says that while some companies might be stepping up their philanthropic efforts for publicity, it does encourage others to come forward and to provide help as well.
“At this point, we need to think rationally,” says Pandey. “Providing urgent food, services, information, and medical equipment is the need of the hour right now.”