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Amid pandemic, Bay Area doctor spearheads effort to get medical equipment to India

Calls it a chance to give back to her homeland
Posted at 5:38 PM, Jul 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-18 17:38:23-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla — As one of the busiest gastroenterologists in the Bay Area, Dr. Arthi Sanjeevi saw the images of Covid's devastating effects on her home country of India and knew she needed to find some time, any time to return the favor to the place that raised her.

"You could see people were just queuing trying to get a hospital bed and they just could not find enough oxygen. There were people dying on the pavement for oxygen hunger," says Sanjeevi, a specialist for Advent Health Tampa.

A deadly second wave of COVID-19 that started in March brought on the deadly Delta Variant now sweeping the globe.

The country of more than a billion people was so overrun with the infection that many patients in India never made it through the doors of hospitals while others had to share beds. It was at a national conference in March that Sanjeevi and other doctors of Indian origin decided they need to do more. "This was our golden opportunity to give back to our motherland so we put our heads together.

We thought about what can we do to help people and the immediate need appeared to be just getting oxygen to the people there," recalls Sanjeevi

In just 3 weeks, Dr. Sanjeevi and a team of volunteers raised more than $250,000 to help buy hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ship them to remote areas of India.

The vital machines provide oxygen to COVID patients to keep them out of intensive care and clear hospital bed space. "If everybody has to go to the hospital the country just did not have the resources and it was a collapsing system. So this was the timely fix to help shoulder people rushing into the hospital and also take people off ventilators," says Sanjeevi. Within weeks, pictures of their oxygen concentrators at work made their way back to Sanjeevi's phone.

The photos provided reassurance. The machines are in such high demand that they are often hijacked and sold on the black market at 10 times the cost. The export and logistics required some childhood connections back home. "The next big hurdle was the import logistics. So I had to go through connections through my childhood to figure out these different connecting links and then in three stages we got nearly 350 oxygen concentrators over there," says Sanjeevi.

350 machines were given out to 50 primary care facilities that were often forgotten in India's rural cities and communities.

Some of those machines even made their way back to her home in Chennai where she left nearly 2 decades ago to become a doctor here in the United States. "To me it was a very fulfilling experience about how much we can do together," says Sanjeevi.