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Virginia's COVID-19 vaccine coordinator has an eye on India: 'It's devastating'

Posted at 3:00 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 18:10:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on in India where hundreds of thousands of new cases are reported each day. The case count has overwhelmed the country's doctors and hospitals.

The pain felt there is being felt here too, especially by those in Virginia's Indian community.

Aekta Chawla said it was disorienting to watch the COVID-19 crisis unfold in India.

"The feeling of guilt, feeling of helplessness, and, you know, anger," Chawla, President of the India Association of Virginia, said. "It's hard to imagine what chaos is happening in that country."

Chawla said many members of the India Association of Virginia have lost loved ones to the virus.

"Brothers who were 38-years-old, cousins who are 28. Parents. It's relentless," she said.

Among those in Central Virginia who lost a loved one in India, the state's vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula.

Avula said COVID claimed the life of an uncle last year and a cousin just a few weeks ago.

"It's devastating," Avula said. "I really think it has been a heavy, heavy burden for so many people there."

He cited the combination of India's heavy population density, lack of resources, and emerging variants as the root causes of the problem.

"We keep talking about this race against the variants. The more we can ensure that people aren't hosts for new mutations and new disease, the more likely it is that we can fend that off," he said.

In response to the ongoing crisis, nonprofits from around the world have worked to provide aid to India.

Ben Phillips, with the Richmond-based international nonprofit Childfund, said they've had teams on the ground since the first wave hit and are helping set up interim treatment facilities.

"Things are pretty grim," Phillips said. "Hospitals and health centers are just -- they're full. I mean, there's just no more room."

The non-profit is also helping families impacted by the virus and with the vaccination campaign

"Community outreach, the education, helping people understand what, you know, why it's important," he said.

Chawla said many of her members have taken personal steps to help out. As a group, they've held some events and will hold a virtual concert this Sunday with the aim of raising $20,000 for relief efforts. Chawla said although our area may be nearing the end of the COVID pandemic, there's a feeling of guilt that India is suffering so much with no end in sight.

"We don't want to celebrate. We don't want to get together until the situation is back to normal," she said.

The IAVA event will be live on several platforms including Facebook and YouTube on Sunday from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

You can donate to IAVA here and ChildFund here.