Who: Shahnawaz Sheikh
What: Provided medical oxygen during COVID by selling his SUV
Why: For helping over 8,000 people with medical oxygen as India faced a major crisis
For 32-year-old Shahnawaz Sheikh, it was the death of his friend’s cousin due to a lack of oxygen that stirred him to provide free medical oxygen to helpless people as India was battered by one COVID wave after another. “She was pregnant and was crying for help to save her and her child,” Sheikh said. She ultimately died at the doors of a Mumbai hospital, awaiting to be admitted. 2020 and 2021 have been years of crises for India as millions of people got infected with COVID-19 and thousands perished. Not just that, from a shortage of hospital beds, to medicines, to even medical oxygen, the catastrophe exposed the dilapidated state of India’s health infrastructure. Amid all this gloom, there were people who showed the light. Shahnawaz Sheikh is one such person who provided oxygen support to over 8,000 people as the country faced a massive shortage.
Due to his phenomenal work for the people, we at Onlymyhealth nominate him for our Cofils Presents Healthcare Heroes Awards 2022. Shahnawaz Sheikh has been nominated in the ‘Oxygen Warrior’ category. This is his story:
From Migrant To Oxygen Crisis
While the second COVID wave brought an oxygen crises, the first one is still remembered for the migrant crisis. Tens of thousands of migrant laborers were stranded in different states as the Centre declared a sudden nationwide lockdown. “During that time, over a thousand labourers and their families had gathered at a public garden near my home in Malad,” Mumbai-based Shahnawaz said. “These were people waiting to go back home, children who were in a desperate need of food and water,” he said. “So, we decided to provide them with food and water, and we did that for 15-20 days,” he added.
This sparked the spirit of change in Shahnawaz
So when the need for medical oxygen arised, he was poised to help. So his team of 40 that formed during the first wave decided to provide it to those quarantined at home, and to those who were not able to get oxygen beds. During the first wave, the team used to get 50 to 100 calls a day not just from Mumbai but from nearby cities such as Kalyan and Thane too.
On the oxygen acquisition process, Shahnawaz said, the day his friend’s sister died, he stayed up the whole night and contacted dealers across Mumbai. “But the demand for medical oxygen was such that I couldn’t get it from anywhere,” he said. The Mumbai man then decided to meet a dealer in Kandivali, who helped him not just with the initial supply of 40 oxygen cylinders, but with refilling them, too.
Oxygen Shortage During Second COVID Wave In India
The number of calls for oxygen he received rose to about 500 during the second COVID wave, Sheikh said. During that time, the country faced a major crisis as several hospitals ran out of medical oxygen. The shortage was such that the refilling of an oxygen cylinder that took Rs 150 earlier rose to Rs 800, he said. The team faced a money crunch too when Sheikh decided to sell his SUV to buy oxygen for those in need.
The car got him Rs 7 lakh, however, that wasn’t enough to meet the demands of those who needed oxygen. He then used his savings. “I used about Rs 30 lakh of my savings,” he told Onlymyhealth. It was then that he got to know about crowdfunding and raised about Rs 28 lakh from it, he said. “In total, we spent somewhere around Rs 80 lakh on this initiative,” he said.
To help people, he divided his team of 40 into groups, one responsible for getting oxygen cylinders refilled, another for delivering it to the homes of those in need. For prioritising, the team decided to help those first who were in absolute need, those whose oxygen levels had dipped below 90. Those above the age of 40 and with co-morbidities were also prioritised. In total, the team helped over 8,000 people and is still providing free medical oxygen to those in need. And for the impending third wave too, the team has secured oxygen concentrators if the need arises.
India is again witnessing a rise in the number of COVID cases and the spread of the heavily-mutated Omicron variant. “Keep yourself safe and follow the COVID guidelines,” is Sheikh’s message to the people. “To protect India from another deadly surge, we must help each other,” he adds.
We at Onlymyhealth give a big shoutout to Shahnawaz Sheikh for his great service to those in need by providing them medical oxygen.
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