Impact of COVID-19 in Northeast:  Be positive to face the deadly virus, says Robin Hibu

Dr Lira urges NGOs to be proactive

ITANAGAR-   Positive attitude key to face the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic said NGO Helping Hands’ founder-president-cum-Delhi Police special commissioner Robin Hibu, while a Delhi based laparoscopic surgeon Dr Lira Sangtam emphasized the role of NGOs and church communities in this pandemic.

Both were resource persons of FIT Northeast’s 3rd edition of ‘Mindful talks’ series on ‘Impact of COVID-19 on NE India’, an initiative of its CEO Sijo Jacob through Google meet between 5 pm to 7 pm on Saturday with senior journalist Pradeep Kumar as an anchor.

The need for the talk was felt as the COVID-19 pandemic tsunami is blowing globally to devastate humanity beyond comprehension to put all scientific development to test while the NE region – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, 7.6% of India’s land area and 3.6% of its total population and home to over 220 indigenous communities known as ‘Miniature Asia’ – has been facing equal challenges. It intended to bring mass awareness on health and wellness, said FIT NE’s associate coordinator Vernika Verma to begin the talks.

Responding to questions – What is your view on the killer virus? What is your advice for the safety of NE people on detection of B.1.617 strain by Pune-based National Institute of Virology in India (including Arunachal) and spread to many nations for WHO to caution India? – Dr Lira stated that ever since the pandemic began after WHO declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic in 2020, simultaneous research and experimental analysis has been going on.

There has not been any definitive treatment for COVID-19 till now and many of the drugs are approved on emergency use authorization (EUA), she said and flayed a national news channel for questioning, “if COVID-19 a giant medical experiment?” after the fall out of many drugs from treatment protocol, as it causes misinformation to the general public.

The variant B1.617 strain detected in India is assumed to be highly transmissible and similar variant have also been identified in the U.S. and South Africa. There is a concern that it may significantly affect the pediatric population and the available vaccine may not be effective against infection by these strains, she said and lauded all front line workers and media persons working in the pandemic.

Hibu, a highly decorated 1993 batch of AGMUT cadre officer and first IPS officer of Arunachal, who was instrumental in setting up of Helping Hands to help NE people in distress either working or studying across India, to become a global role model, was asked – You are an all-time player and maintain good health. What is your view about maintaining good health vis-à-vis the virus?

He said: Fitness was one of the top priorities of NE people in the past by walking through hills for daily chores, which slowly disappeared due to modern impact, particularly under the influence of neo-rich classes. Careless attitude towards own health was the prime cause of present poor health trend, he said while recalling the death of 50 of his Arunachalee friends, including noted journalist Taro Chatung.

Most NE people suffer from either cancer or heart attack, he said while referring to a recent survey of NE patients in Delhi. About 9 to 11 lakh NE people live in Delhi, including a large number recruited after skill development training who become gulloble to various abuses, including sexual exploitation in workplaces, for their simplicity and straightforwardness. “They are treated like exhibits of Jurassic Park for which they deserve special treatment to match steps with their developed Indian brethren,” he said without mincing any words.

“I lead by setting an example to maintain a robust daily routine of warm-up, yoga, ups and down and skipping to remain fit for which I have been topping among officers in health status for the last 10 years,” he said to reveal the secret of his good health. “Thus, three senior doctors, including Dr Lira, have been appointed as a health consultant for our police personnel,” he said.

When asked – Helping Hands has carved a niche for itself as a life saviour during this pandemic; including taking care of COVID patients and disposing off 76 dead bodies. Were the members not scared? He said that the Helping Hands’ dedicated team has been working against all odds, running an ambulance and maintaining the oxygen supply for which he had given Rs 50,000 to start the O2 ATM, while volunteers have been collecting oxygen from many other states.

Recalling last year’s lockdown period, he said that Helping Hands’ volunteers used to stand in the queue to collect food staffs to run the lone 24×7 food supply chain in Delhi to feed the starving lot. Senior officers, including of IGP rank, were appointed as nodal officers of 37 help desks across India, including commissioner Indira Mallo of Arunachal in Mumbai, to either offer food to stranded NE people or help them to return home which was a herculean job, he recalled.

On his feeling about proposed virtual rock show involving top NE artists proposed to raise fund, themed ‘Help us to help you, to give a new trust to ongoing ‘Save life mission of Helping Hands, he said it was beyond expression. When asked how the mission is accomplished, he smiled and quoted Bhagvad Gita: Karmanye Vadhikaraste, ma phaleshou kada chana (You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of actions).”

When Vernika asked about the exercise routine including jumbo dance for 3,000 police personnel including officers of both sexes to maintain good health, he said the idea was not to impose exercise but to make them do it willingly.

Pointing out that Church-supported Young Mizo Association’s stringent code of conduct in Mizoram, scrupulously adhered to by all parties by banning the excessive display of posters, banners and hoardings, no overt display of wealth and attempts to woo voters with feasts and other such blandishments to receive appreciation from then chief election commissioner T N Seshan as numero uno state for the corruption-free election, then why not Helping Hands convince the church-led NGOs in Mizoram to contain the spike, the anchor asked?

The state was at the bottom in NE with COVID-19 cases, recoveries and deaths of 9,740, 7,407 and 30 while Assam was at the top with 3,53,574, 2,9,7902 and 2,507 respectively but Mizoram saw a spike of 2.6% daily during May 4 to 11 leaving all NE states behind? Assam topped the list with a growth rate of only 0.8% followed by Arunachal Pradesh (1%), Manipur (1.4%), Nagaland (1.7%) and Meghalaya (1.8%) during that period. Dr Lira, who is from Nagaland having almost 90% Christian population, cited a debate in an article on whether the churches should be opened or not.

She maintained that any social gathering would cause further spread of the virus and stressed that the NGOs and churches could play a vital role in containing the pandemic by adhering to COVID protocols besides helping in converting large halls into makeshift hospitals, which she believed is being done in her state.

While Vernika lauded the duo for their educative talks, anchor Kumar, quoting Lord Buddha and Sankaracharya, concluded: chaireiveti… chaireiveti… (life must go on whatever may come)

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