Why the elderly, working classes in Mumbai are feeling the prick of digital gaps

21 May,2021 06:46 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nascimento Pinto

Digitally-disconnected senior citizens and the working class in the city are struggling to get their jabs done in the face of an app-based vaccination drive. Many are forced to depend on young family members and good samaritans to help them out

People get vaccinated at the MMRC Dedicated Covid-19 Health Centre at Ketkipada, Dahisar, on Wednesday. Pic/Satej Shinde

For Borivali-based Sarita Dattaram Davde, getting the vaccine is very important. It will not only make the 55-year-old less susceptible to the Covid-19 virus that has been ravaging the world for the last one year, but also ensure she and her husband, Dattaram Davde, can go out and run their small roadside eatery safely and with confidence. However, her efforts to book slots online over the last two months have been futile. 

Davde is among lakhs of technologically-challenged Mumbaikars who are struggling to get inoculated. “Since my husband and I are not good with technology, we have to rely on my son to help us book a slot. Every day, we get on the website and try to get a slot but before you know it, it is unavailable. Luckily, my husband managed to secure the first dose before I could and is waiting to get his second dose but it would have been much easier if we didn’t have to depend on technology,” she says. Forced by these circumstances, she will walk into a centre close to her without prior booking to try and get the vaccine in the coming week.

According to the current procedure, people can register for the vaccine on the CoWin portal or the Aarogya Setu application. Unfortunately, many are found waiting for OTPs in the former, while in the latter, others have encountered online traffic jams or found slots to be booked-out. Based on guidelines announced on May 12, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) allows walk-ins and on-spot registration only for three days a week, from Monday to Wednesday, and allows only those with online registrations from Thursday to Saturday. Vaccines are limited in availability and are usually administered at Mumbai centres between 10 am and 3 pm only. The BMC posts daily updates about vaccine availability, list of centres, and qualifying age groups on Twitter, which too is not uniformly accessible to the elderly and working classes. 

It is quite evident that even though technology is considered to be boon, it is proving to be a curse for many in this case. Even youths who are comfortable with social media and apps have had little luck helping their digitally-disconnected loved ones and acquaintances. Take South Mumbai resident Sonal Shah, for instance. She has been trying for over one month to get her 99-year-old great-grandmother Jayakunvari Manilal Shah vaccinated, before she hits the century mark soon. Last Sunday, Shah finally tweeted to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) appealing for help.

“My great-grandmother is going to turn 100 on May 27 and all she wants to do is get vaccinated because she has this zest for life and I want to help and have been trying to get it done for her but that hasn’t been possible. She recently had a fracture and that is why I don’t want to take her to the vaccination centre and make her wait there,” says Shah. The vaccination will be quite the birthday gift for nonagenarian Shah. But Shah hasn’t received a response from the BMC yet. 

While a few have been lucky to get their family inoculated through office vaccination drives, many are still without answers. The last one month has been similarly harrowing for Virar-based Jenifer Lobo. The 28-year-old registered on the CoWin website the day the vaccination drive opened for the 18-44 age group on May 1, hoping that her family would all be able to get the jabs together. “I have been trying to get a slot for my 63-year-old father and 58-year-old mother on the website but it has been really difficult. It is never available. I also joined various Telegram groups but they do not have any slots for centres in Virar," says Lobo, a software engineer. “If you want a slot, you have to constantly be on the website and then I am unable to do my work, so I have just given up in the last two weeks,” she adds. 

Talking about the woes of the elderly in her house, she says, “When the vaccination drive started, my father-in-law decided to do a walk-in instead of using the online method and stood in the line at one of the centres here from 3 o` clock in the morning. Yet, he was the 15th person in line. He got the vaccine only at 9 am. For a person who is in his 60s, that is a lot of time to spend to get a vaccination.” 

Fortunately, some good samaritans have come to the rescue of those such as Shah and Lobo. Mahim-based Shayne D’souza has been a blessing in disguise. Ever since the vaccination drive started, the city-based hospitality professional--who hasn’t been able to resume work in Goa--has been driving around all those who need to get the vaccine for a nominal fee. “I drive people within the Bandra to Dadar area to the vaccination centre and have even gone as far as Vasai. Most of these people don’t want to go by the kaali peelis as they are concerned about their safety. So, I transport them in my vehicle which I sanitise every day and more often than not have to help them even with the registration process as they don’t know how to do it," says D’souza, who does as many as six rounds a day with three people every time. 

“From the conversations I`ve had with them in my car, I`ve realised that the older people are facing a lot of difficulty. Only about 15 per cent of them are going through the online appointment process, the rest are all walk-ins and need a lot of help. Since, they are old, I request the people at the centre to help them as soon as possible instead of making them wait in the long queues.” 

City-based electrical engineer Hardik Somani, and COO of Sapio Analytics, is currently working on `Elderline`, which should be available soon. Somani says, “It is a helpline for elderly people, especially for those who are not tech-savvy as they do not have to use any kind of application. Everybody knows how to call these days and it is the easiest thing to do. So, one call for help and they will be connected to the required personnel in government agencies.” With a focus on ‘resource optimisation’, Somani`s 200-member team wants to bridge the technology gap and help the elderly and those in rural areas too. 

These efforts are being made as door-to-door vaccinations are still a distant dream for the elderly, specially-abled and bed-ridden in the country. On May 20, the Bombay High Court directed the chairman of the ‘National Expert Group for Vaccine Administration of Covid-19` (NEGVAC) to reconsider the policy. The court said it was ‘disheartened’ and ‘disappointed’ that the central government was not starting the door-to-door drive. It called the officials ‘insensitive’ and said that instead of making elderly people rush to the vaccination centres, it is the government who must reach out to them.

Also Read: How Mumbai citizen volunteers rose to organise hospital beds and hot meals in the second wave

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