Even after the country went into lockdown from March 25, Ganesh Reddy, who runs the Citizen Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Ranchi, Jharkhand, noticed that people in the city were just not following the rules of social distancing while stepping out to buy groceries and other essential supplies. “I realised that since we had no vaccine, the only way to stop COVID-19 was through social distancing. Staying away from each other was key,” says Reddy. “So, I decided to make a pictorial presentation of the minimum distance required to be safe from the infection.”
A school dropout, Reddy started the Citizen Foundation in 1997, has a team of around 500 people, including postgraduates with rural development degrees. The NGO is active in all 24 districts of Jharkhand in the sectors of health, livelihood and water resource management. For his Covid endeavour, Reddy spoke to his team, and they got down to work a day after Ranchi reported its first COVID-19 case on March 31. They first identified 130 locations where people tended to congregate, vegetable markets, grocery shops, community kitchens, shops on main roads, and Reddy decided to mark out circles to indicate the approximate distance each person had to maintain between themselves and others. As soon as Reddy got approval from the district administration for the project, the group hired painters to create 5,000 circles separated by a length of one metre, using permanent distemper markings. Reddy mobilised volunteers for the task but used his own funds for this project. “People noticed the circles immediately and started using them while waiting their turn at shops and markets,” says Reddy. “We also continued with our COVID-19 awareness campaign throughout April. Now, everyone in Ranchi seems to follow the rules to avoid the virus.”
Ranchi alone accounts for 83 of Jharkhand’s total 115 cases. Reddy also realised that because of the overwhelming focus on COVID-19, those suffering from non-Covid illnesses had been deprived of regular medical care. “The doctors were willing to help, but they needed both privacy and security from infection,” says Reddy. Reddy then decided to start a virtual OPD for consultation. He also offered a link between the doctors and the patients in the form of a telephone OPD and managed to rope in seven doctors for the initiative, which launched on April 7, World Health Day. Called ‘Hello, Doctor’, the helpline has, till now, received over a thousand calls for consultation from Jharkhand and Bihar.
Reddy’s team has also distributed over 16,000 masks among those who can either not afford or don’t wish to spend a part of their meagre earning on these. Along with masks, they have also been handing out sanitisers to vegetable vendors, cooks, cart pullers, or anyone out delivering essential services.
“We wanted to help fill the gaps left out by the authorities who are, right now, busy protecting the nation. The Citizen Foundation believes in filling these gaps instead of the conventional relief methods,” says Reddy.
The NGO also operates a hospital in Jharkhand’s Sahibganj district, which has been converted into a COVID hospital. Plus, the Mobile Medical Units run by the NGO in Giridih and Godda districts have been involved in testing for COVID-19 patients in their respective jurisdictions.