Catholic university in India opens COVID-19 care centers

By Courtney Mares for CNA

A worker refills medical oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 patients in New Delhi, India. / Exposure Visuals via Shutterstock.

Rome Newsroom, May 14, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

St. Xavier’s University has opened care centers in Kolkata to treat people with COVID-19 who have no place to isolate at home.

Fr. Felix Raj, S.J., the vice-chancellor of the Catholic university, said that many poor villagers in the region live in households in which people are in close proximity to each other and that “it would not be prudent to expect that they can maintain physical distancing in such setups.”

“We cannot sit idle and be mute spectators to what is unfolding in our neighborhood amid a raging pandemic. St. Xavier’s University has always reached out to people in their hours of distress,” the Jesuit priest told The Telegraph in Kolkata.

The university is helping to start three isolation facilities with 90 beds in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Asansol, in addition to a pre-hospitalization center on its campus.

The facilities will have beds, oxygen, nebulizers, trained nurses, and a doctor on call.

The number of COVID-19 cases has surged recently in Kolkata, also known as Calcutta, one of the most densely populated cities in India.

West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, reported its highest single-day spike in new cases on May 13, with 20,839 new cases in 24 hours, according to the state’s data.

Across India, a country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there have been reports of hospitals running low on beds and vital supplies, such as oxygen.

The death rate has been so high in Delhi and Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) that crematoriums have reported running out of space.

The country has averaged about 3,500 deaths per day from COVID-19, with a total death toll of more than 262,000 people, although experts believe the number of deaths to be undercounted, according to the Associated Press.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic has said that higher rates of transmission could be due to a new COVID-19 variant that was discovered in India.

In Hyderabad, Fr. Noel Maddhichetty has also been working to help those affected by the pandemic. He is the director of Bosconet, a Catholic association with 500 centers across 28 states of India.

In the first wave of the pandemic, Bosconet reached 3.28 million people with some sort of support, including hot meals, weekly rations, and health kits to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But Maddhichetty said that the organization was caught off guard by how quickly the situation deteriorated in this second wave with an acute shortage of oxygen.

“We are not capable of supplying oxygen. We don’t have an oxygen supply chain,” he told EWTN.

The priest said that Bosconet was looking into how it could help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and what kinds of support it could provide for people who were sick and quarantined at home.

“Also, we are now trying to promote the vaccination … and the Don Bosco centers are trying to give some space for vaccinations centers,” he said.

Bishops across India have been calling on the government to do more to ensure that medical resources are reaching those in need.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic bishops’ conference of India, said in a statement May 10 that the Catholic Church would be at the forefront of offering medical services to those in need because of the pandemic.

“The Church in India has a thousand hospitals with 60,000 beds across providing healthcare to everyone, especially people on the margins of society. We are also coordinating financial aid to buy more ventilators and increase our medical equipment to save the lives of our people, which will be available for people of all faiths and creeds,” Gracias said in the statement published by Asia News.

“We will open all our facilities to the needs of the people. Our schools will operate as isolation and quarantine centers, our institutions as vaccination centers, and our religious personnel all over the country will begin our campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated,” he said.

The cardinal noted that two bishops died during this second wave of the pandemic, as well as many priests and religious sisters.

“I often receive phone calls from entire convents infected with the virus,” he said.

Bishop Basil Bhuriya of Jhabua, 65, died on May 6 and Archbishop Emeritus Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, 75, died of COVID-19 on May 4.

“We must remember that our lives are of service. Yet it is painful to see lives snuffed out so quickly. The virus has claimed many people we know and has left many children orphaned who have lost both parents. There is so much suffering and we turn to pray,” Gracias said.


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