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A woman in a lab coat administers a shot to a person. // Photo from Unsplash

Photo from Unsplash.

UM affected by a health crisis half a world away

May 20, 2021 — 

As we in Manitoba struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are aware that other regions around the globe are being affected much more than we are. Some Manitobans have family members or friends caught in the terrible crisis half a world away. In particular, all eyes have been on India and Pakistan, both facing a health crisis beyond anything previously imagined.

Dr. Gady Jacoby, Dean and CPA Manitoba Chair in Business Leadership at the I.H. Asper School of Business, has been following the challenges in India. He noted, “The scale of the human tragedy unfolding in India is unfathomable and this crisis has hit home for our School as many Asper School of Business students and faculty are from South Asia. Some of our current students are studying virtually from India and many of our students and faculty are concerned about their family and friends dealing with the nation’s catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases.”

One student caught in the pandemic is second-year UM MBA student Plavan Deka, who traveled to visit his family in India in February, before infection rates began soaring. With travel restrictions now in place, he has been forced to complete his classes remotely.

“The situation here is pretty scary, primarily because it was not expected. Having dealt with the first wave successfully when compared with many other countries, officials and the public believed the worst days were over and nobody expected the second wave could be worse than the first. Unfortunately, India has been caught like a deer in headlights; the second wave surged exponentially starting in April, and the government was caught off guard,” said Deka.

He added, “Fortunately, my immediate family hasn’t been affected by COVID-19, but many friends and their families have been affected and lost loved ones. Recently, my father lost one of his friends I had just met in March 2021. There are multiple new cases and deaths, even in my own apartment building, which was not at all the case during the first wave.”

One of those concerned is Dr. Subbu Sivaramakrishnan, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and International Exchange at Asper.

“It’s a feeling of helplessness to hear from this far away that some family members and friends have contracted the virus, that too the very potent variant. To make it worse, some of them have been hospitalized, or worse still, never made it back home from the hospital,” Sivaramakrishnan said.

Sivaramakrishnan believes that at times like these, we should be thinking of the world as one nation, as opposed to finger-pointing or sitting complacently, thinking it’s a problem of another group of people rather than ourselves.

“We all need to realize that a life is a life is a life, and no life is more or less valuable simply because of its economic, cultural, or demographic background,” he advises.

UM alumnus Sheeraj Patel [BComm(Hons)/02], chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Vice President of Commercial Financial Services at RBC, is deeply concerned with the events unfolding in India and other countries affected by COVID-19. In particular, he wants to walk alongside members of the UM community who are worrying or grieving during this time.

“In light of the notable amount of international South Asian students we have here in our city – our support is desperately needed. Through the lens of a father, I worry about the mental and spiritual impact many of the South Asian international students are navigating through. As a proud UM alumni and a first-generation South Asian Canadian, I am willing to leverage my privileged platform here at RBC, as well as Chair of the Winnipeg Chamber to extend myself as a resource to magnify or spread the word of mental health resources available to UM students and staff,” said Patel.

Sivaramakrishnan notes: “Not to get philosophical, but this is one of those times when one realizes that natural forces are way stronger than anything we humans can handle. At times like these, one cannot do much more than hope that this will pass soon.”

He sounds a rallying cry for those of us in Manitoba: “I would like people to take this opportunity to help out in any way they can, whether through donations to relief organizations, giving someone they know a shoulder to cry on, or just calling up someone they know who has family back in India to ask how they are doing.”

Deka has words of advice Canadians, “I think any country would be caught off guard with a surge and stress on the healthcare infrastructure as what is happening now in India. The most reasonable thing to do right now is to follow curfew and lockdown measures. The kind of precautionary measures federal and provincial governments in Canada are taking are what is needed. I know there are people who don’t like lockdowns, but once you see or are aware of the situation in India right now, you would really want to stay locked inside your house and keep your close ones near.”

Dean Jacoby offers some reassuring words for the UM community:

“The Asper School of Business takes great pride in our many students and faculty members from all parts of the world, and at times like this, we are reminded of how interconnected we all are. Now, more than ever, the global community needs us and we should all consider giving back in meaningful ways to help India recover from this crisis.”

For those interested in providing support to the communities in India affected by this crisis please consider donating to a global relief organization such as CARE or Red Cross Canada.


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