Meals being served daily to the poor and needy in Mumbai and Pune by Caring Indians.
Meals being served daily to the poor and needy in Mumbai and Pune by Caring Indians.

From designing low-cost ventilators to feeding needy, how 'Caring Indians' is aiding India's COVID-19 fight

ANI | Updated: May 18, 2020 13:03 IST

By Shweta Kukreti
New Delhi [India], May 18 (ANI): While India has been helping countries around the globe with medicines in the fight against COVID-19, a team of 'Caring Indians' along with IIT Kanpur and NOCCA Robotics has come forward to give the country's healthcare system the much-needed boost by designing low-cost ventilators.

The team achieved fruits of its hard work when a defence PSU recently signed an MoU with IIT Kanpur and NOCCA Robotics for the large scale manufacturing of ventilators, which cost a fraction of the ones currently in use at hospitals.

The country's healthcare system is in desperate need of ventilators, in view of the surging COVID-19 cases. So much so that the lion's share of PM-CARES Fund, amounting to Rs 2,000 crore, was earmarked for the purchase of the life-saving equipment by the Centre last week.

Social initiative -- Caring Indians
A group of IIT-ians launched a crowd-sourced social initiative called 'Caring Indians' to pool expertise and resources of professionals in healthcare and manufacturing. The team consists of engineers, scientists, doctors, IIT professors and also some enthusiastic volunteers, who have joined hands to build equipment which will help the country win the battle against coronavirus.

The philanthropic venture was started in mid-March when IIT-ians and entrepreneurs - Samarth, Anurag Dixit, Manish Goyal, Rahul Raj, Ajayender Reddy, and Nanjesh Patel - who have not met each other physically yet, approached each other on Twitter with an idea to contribute in terms of products and services to tackle the COVID crisis. For this, the team collaborated with IIT, Kanpur Professor Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, in-charge of Innovation and Incubation, and a robotics company to design a prototype of ventilator for patients suffering from the infection.

The team also started another initiative to provide meals to the needy, especially migrant labourers, in five major cities -- Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Jaipur.

"We partnered with IIT Kanpur to start with the ventilator project. We along with IIT-K professors and a robotics firm designed and created a prototype that was ready for use but it had to undergo some changes to get certification. In product scenario, you will need permission and you have to go through a proper route. As it was a bit time consuming, we decided to begin with food initiative in five cities," Samarth, one of the co-founders of 'Caring Indians' told ANI.He said that it makes sense to have a food system in place that works like an "infrastructure rather than a one-time activity".

Technical progress
With engineers who volunteered from all over the country, the team also came up with other designs like a low-cost contactless infrared thermometer, invasive ventilator system, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic panels, protective masks, calcium hypochlorite disinfectant solution etc.

'Caring Indians' has also become a medium to facilitate the procurement and distribution of locally-produced masks, gloves, sanitisers, PPE kits etc. Most of the products are already in the prototype phase and upon getting the government's nod these will be sent to manufacturers to begin production.

"With the expertise of Professor Amitabh and Rahul Raj, we got our design prototype of ventilators ready. The cost of the ventilator is pretty low as compared to a regular one. In this direction, Bharat Dynamics Limited, a defence PSU, signed an MoU for the large scale manufacturing of ventilators developed by NOCCA Robotics, an incubated start-up of IIT Kanpur," Samarth said proudly, adding that Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has also asked for the design of the ventilator.

Moreover, IIT Guwahati Professor Charu -- in collaboration with G labs -- designed and developed high-quality reusable mask with a replaceable filter which was being tested for bacterial filtration efficiency of 99 per cent. "The mask designed by her was available at one-tenth of normal mask price which is around Rs 60. It has a filter that can be changed and one can continue to keep using the same mask," Samarth said.

The group with assistance from film producer Manish Mundra has also distributed PPE kits and masks in various hospitals across the country.

Using Indian components, the team also created a low-cost contactless thermometer. Its design is being improved and it will soon be ready for mass production.

Around 90 doctors who have collaborated with 'Caring Indians' are providing free online mental health counselling to people. Every day, they receive calls from at least 30 people including lots of repeat calls from individuals who are undergoing counselling.

Serving the needy in 5 major cities
Joining hands with an NGO named the Robin Hood Army and food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy, 'Caring Indians' started a food distribution chain and have served over 1 lakh meals across Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur and Bengaluru in last two months.

BJP's Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya also came forward to help the team with food distribution in Bengaluru. "Caring Indians has been serving food to underprivileged in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Jaipur all these days. They've now started ops in B'luru South. Our Task Force is delivering 500+ meals in Nayandahalli daily," he tweeted.

On being asked if the team is planning to expand their reach to rural areas, Samarth said: "Most of the rural areas are under green zones. However, we strategically chose these five cities as they fall under red zones and are severely affected by COVID-19. These cities comprise of larger migrant labourers population who are facing difficulties in arranging meals for themselves since they have no money."

He said the team will continue with its food chain initiative even post-lockdown as "food is something that India will always need."

On a daily basis, lunch and dinner are prepared at Swiggy's cloud kitchens in every city. The volunteers pick up packed meal packets and deliver them to those in need.

Hurdles on their way
Initially, over more than a thousand volunteers came together to help the group with resources and energy. However, volunteers and funds started tapering off due to the situation arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, some of the volunteers involved in delivering food were "detected positive" for coronavirus.

"As soon as we started, things started tapering off, including funds, since the economy is not in great situation and people need to see how much dispensable income they have in order to donate. Side by side, people are also losing jobs. Thus, volunteers kept coming in and moving out. Supplying food in COVID-19 hotspots and arranging curfew-passes consumed a lot of time. A couple of our volunteers tested COVID positive as well. Thus, we decided to opt for those who have passes and trained them to run all our food distributing operations smoothly," Samarth said.

He particularly mentioned the name of a volunteer - Raghav Dhanuka - and film producer Mundra who assisted the team with the expansion of food distribution and played a major role in providing and sourcing funds.

Despite all this, the group remained motivated and kept crossing each hurdle with ease with abundant support from people on social media.

Funding and transparency
In order to keep their developmental processes completely transparent and accessible, all internal processes are completely open-sourced. To ensure this, 'Caring Indians' has been publishing updates on their ongoing processes, along with all and any resources that they require, on their website.

Further, the donation amount gets directly transferred to where it is needed as the team has not generated any bank account to keep things as transparent and efficient as they can.

Message to society
Samarth appealed to people to show empathy towards each other and be non-discriminatory about COVID-19. "Do not get scared from somebody sneezing or having cold and cough. It is a curable disease and the death ratio is low. Also, if the economy opens up, we shouldn't forget the basics of social distancing and all precautionary measures required to combat COVID-19." (ANI)