Category Archives: Coronavirus

Holy Spirit sister who survived COVID-19 donates plasma to save others

Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo)
Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo

MUMBAI, INDIA — Though she is a hospital administrator and nurse in western India who once trained nurses in the South Sudan during ethnic fighting, a Catholic nun’s worst fear about getting COVID-19 was going on a ventilator.

“I was certain that once I was put on the ventilator I would not survive. I would visualize how I was going to die,” said Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph, remembering a harrowing incident waking up after her appendectomy years earlier, intubated and gasping for breath.

But when she caught the virus, she not only escaped the ventilator, she survived after 18 days of treatment and ended up donating convalescent plasma to try to save the lives of coronavirus patients. “There was an inner voice that urged me to donate plasma,” she said.

Joseph was honored Nov. 1, 2020, as a COVID-19 Warrior by the governor of Maharashtra state at his residence in Mumbai, the state capital.

“I am proud of you. Thank you for your selfless service to society,” Gov. Bhagat Singh Koshyari told Joseph while presenting the member of the Missionary Sisters, Servants of the Holy Spirit a letter recognizing her “exemplary service.”

The governor, who is the Indian president’s representative in the state, pointed out that Joseph has inspired many COVID-19 survivors to donate blood to treat other patients.

The Warrior award program was organized by Spandan (heartbeat) Arts, a local nongovernmental organization, along with Ashish Shelar, a legislator in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.

Joseph donated her blood for the fifth time Dec. 9, in what news reports called a first for a female donor. “I still want to donate [blood], however, doctors advised me to wait,” the 57-year-old nun told Global Sisters Report in November after her fourth donation.

Joseph, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is currently the chief executive officer of the Holy Spirit Hospital, a multispecialty tertiary care institution her congregation manages at Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai.

The nun donates plasma only to poor COVID-19 patients in Nair Hospital and Medical College, a government-managed institution in Mumbai.

Ramesh S. Waghmare, a doctor and associate professor of the blood bank at Nair Hospital who facilitated Joseph’s blood donation, defines plasma therapy as a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies in those infected.

As part of the procedure, plasma, the fluid part of blood containing antibodies, is separated and transfused into a COVID-19 patient’s body. “This procedure has not been officially approved as an effective measure to treat COVID-19 patients. But it has shown positive results in our hospital,” Waghmare told GSR over the phone.

The doctor said his hospital conducts “guided plasma therapy” on COVID-19 victims with convalescent plasma from recovered patients such as Joseph as part of a clinical trial.

“We transfuse two units of 200 milliliters [6.76 ounces] each on a patient in two successive days and our results so far have been successful,” Waghmare explained.

The doctor lauded Joseph for donating plasma multiple times when other survivors have been reluctant to support the trial even once.

The Catholic nun, he added, has expressed willingness to assist them in the trial by giving her plasma unconditionally. “We are all indebted to her,” he said.

Joseph, however, believes that it was God’s plan to let her contract the disease so that she could gain new insights into her religious life and her desire to serve impoverished people.

She had her fears when she became ill, as the disease is so new.

“When I knew that I had contracted the virus, I was scared and thought my end had come,” Joseph recalled.

The nun said she had mentally prepared to die, if that was God’s will. She battled for life in the hospital for 18 days in May. A week after recovery, she was back on duty.

“Now I realize that God had a special purpose in letting me contract COVID-19. Initially, I was disappointed, as people keep away from COVID-19 patients even after they are healed,” she said.

Ursulines of Mary Immaculate Sr. Beena Devassia Madhavath, who heads the Sister Doctors Forum in India, appreciates Joseph’s “courage and generosity.”

Many people have fears and misconceptions about donating plasma, but Joseph had no problem, says Madhavath, who is also the medical superintendent of Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital. “It is really a humanitarian work,” she told GSR.

Madhavath points out that not everyone can donate plasma. “A woman is eligible only if she has not conceived. Pregnancy leads to cross-reactive antibodies that can cause harm,” she said. (Tests used in Western nations to determine antibody safety in women are largely unavailable in India.)

“It takes at least three hours for donating the blood, and it needs a lot of courage and commitment,” the doctor nun explained. What she admires about Joseph is that the Holy Spirit nun could “spare so much time from her hectic work schedule in her hospital where she does double jobs as an administrator and a nurse.”

Madhavath said all sisters in the country are “really proud that one of us has done a marvelous work for the humanity.”

Joseph credits her religious vocation for paving the way. “If I was not a nun, I would not have been able to donate my plasma. I believe my religious vocation has a special purpose,” she said.

Even though she had heard about plasma therapy, she had no idea how to go about it. One of her colleagues, Pravin Nair, encouraged her to donate.

Joseph fulfills all requirements of a plasma donor. “Generally, one needs an antibody [level] greater than three for donating plasma, but mine was greater than 10,” she said. “My serum protein level also was on the higher side, a good indication for donation.”

Nair hails Joseph as a self-driven person who is committed to helping the poor. “When I informed her about the opportunity and importance of donating plasma, she identified the government hospital and started donation,” said Nair, the head of the microbiology department and infection control at Holy Spirit Hospital.

He added that Joseph always maintains that her mission in life is to serve others, especially poor people in a time of pandemic. She ignored offers from private hospitals and chose the government hospital since poorer patients flock there, he explained.

Some studies say plasma therapy is not useful to treat COVID-19, Nair said, but “treating a virus with antibodies is an effective mechanism in medical science and we believe plasma therapy is useful to treat pandemic virus.”

Another admirer of Joseph is Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay. “She had a very bad attack and suffered a lot,” said the prelate, who shot a video of the sister donating plasma to encourage others to follow her example.

“It is very rare for a woman to take such a step, but she realized the pain and suffering of COVID-19 patents and that helped her walk the extra mile,” D’Silva told GSR.

The prelate said he has found Joseph to be “a very humble” person. “She does it not for any fame,” he said.

Many others work in Catholic hospitals, but Joseph has become an example not only for Christians but others, too, D’Silva said. “Her life gives us a clear message: What we get, we need to give back.”

Joseph, the youngest among six children in a Catholic family of Kerala, a southwestern Indian state, wonders why her donations have drawn so much attention.

“As a child I had a passion to serve the poor and I grabbed the opportunity to give my plasma for their treatment,” she said. “I want to help only the poor who will not be able to pay for the treatment.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/holy-spirit-sister-who-survived-covid-19-donates-plasma-save-others

Holy Spirit nuns join with network in India to support migrants

Migrants from Maharashtra traveled by truck and were left May 25 at Bondamunda, Odisha, in India. They sat in the sun without food for an entire day. The author and her congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, gave them food and made arrangements for their further travel to West Bengal. (Provided photo)

The moment the COVID-19 lockdown started, I felt fear deep within. My inner voice was saying “stay at home,” but the cries of the thousands of the migrant workers all over the country kept me disturbed until I went out to help them.

Welcoming a stranger is an important evangelical virtue for Christians. Every human being has inalienable rights, so caring for migrants is a significant mission of the Catholic Church.

The Bible begins with the migration of God’s Spirit into creation, and ends with John as a refugee in exile on the Isle of Patmos. Between those two events, the uprooted people of God seek safety, sanctuary and refuge, and God gives directions for welcoming a stranger.

In his 2013 message to migrants and refugees, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the integration of migrants and refugees into society. On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016, Pope Francis said in his address that the situation of so many men, women and children forced to flee their homes must challenge us and break the barrier of indifference.

In 2000 my congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Word Missionaries began what is now a consortium of 12 religious congregations called VIVAT International, a nongovernmental organization that advocates at the United Nations. Representatives in New York and Geneva link the ministries of our members with the United Nations.

I attended the first workshop VIVAT organized — in Indore, India, in August 2011 — about problems faced by domestic workers and migrants. Inspired by this workshop, my congregation prioritized the issue of domestic and migrant workers and addressed them in all our mission areas.

When our federal government imposed national lockdown in March to contain the spread of COVID-19, millions of Indian migrants struggled as factories closed down. They lost jobs and were desperate to return home in that uncertain time. With no food, water or public transportation, they commuted hundreds of kilometers on foot—dying of hunger and exhaustion, suicide, road and rail accidents, police brutality, and denial of timely medical care along the way. Local and federal government help came too little and too late.

Heartbreaking stories of the migrant workers are too many to recount. I saw many migrant workers returning to their native places by means of inadequate transportation and with no food. I was dumbfounded to see many women and children packed among men — like merchandise — in trucks and other goods carriers. Many days of the painful journey were unforgettable, and the pathetic life that they endured after the lockdown cannot be expressed in words.

Thirteen groups of migrant workers native of Odisha who were in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi, Mumbai, Telengana and Kerala were wanting to come back due to unemployment, financial crisis, starvation and fear of getting infected with COVID 19. When our community in Odisha was contacted to extend our help to the returning migrants, we networked with priests, sisters, laypeople and organizations in different parts of India to work towards the migrants’ survival and safe return home. We did the following:

  • Provided cooked and dry food to migrant workers who were on the way to their homes in Bondamunda, Gomardih, Bhubaneswar and Duburi;
  • Arranged for vehicles to help them reach their respective destinations;
  • Distributed sanitary kits and masks;
  • Extended regular contact and material, financial and moral support to the migrants.

As I started to network, I witnessed many good Samaritans — especially the Don Bosco Priests, Jesuits, Divine Word Missionaries, Pallotine priests, the Excellent IAS Academy, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Handmaids of Mary sisters, and Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, my own congregation, who spent their time, energy, resources and finances willingly and generously, and above all, risked their own lives to support the migrants in need.

Five girls from Kantapalli village, living in the south, had no food to eat. When we asked, the Don Bosco priests in our network provided all the help for their immediate needs and train tickets. They reached Odisha safely and after quarantine, they are at home now.

Two boys from Birjapalli (Odisha) lost their jobs in Delhi. They managed to get partway home, and the Pallotine priests were contacted to help get them the rest of the way home.

Three girls from Duburi, Odisha, working in the south, lost everything and wanted to return home. With the help of the Don Bosco priests, two girls reached home safely and the third girl was admitted to a hostel.

Twelve migrants from Sundargarh district, working in the south, were faced with extreme difficulties and decided to return home. They informed their supervisor of their desire and need to return home. He gave them a false promise that he would send them home soon. When this promise was not fulfilled even after many days, they contacted us for help. Through stern warnings to the supervisor and appeal to the local police, all 12 returned home safely.

The Jesuits helped us return another group of migrants, and the Don Bosco priests rescued 18 who had lost their jobs and were bankrupt. Nine migrants from Bihar on the way to their working place were held in Rourkela for almost two and a half months, without work. A Divine Word priest and his staff in Rourkela fed them and helped them to reach home safely.

Two girls below the ages of 18 from Rourkela slum, Odisha, doing domestic work in Delhi, were jobless and struggled for food after the lockdown. A Divine Word priest was contacted; he gave them necessary provisions and planned to get them tickets for their return home.

A group in Kerala, South India, and another in Delhi, did not lose their jobs, but were afraid of infection and wanted to come back. Divine Word priests offered them counseling and convinced them to stay on.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/column/holy-spirit-nuns-join-network-india-support-migrants

Bangladesh extends school shutdown over second COVID-19 wave

Daily infections have shown a rising trend this month, with 1,845 new cases and 13 deaths reported on Thursday [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Bangladesh has extended its closure of schools and educational institutions, which were last open in March, until December 19 amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections during the coming Bangladeshi winter, the education ministry said on Thursday.

Experts said the South Asian country, with patchy healthcare facilities, could face another surge in infections, having so far confirmed 427,198 cases and 6,140 deaths from COVID-19.

The government closed schools and educational institutions on March 17 and has extended the closure several times, most recently until November 15.

“The decision has been taken considering the second wave … We can’t play with the lives of our children,” said a senior official of the education ministry, who declined to be named.

The government, however, has lifted most other restrictions.

Daily infections have shown a rising trend this month, with 1,845 new cases and 13 deaths reported on Thursday.

“The coronavirus situation could worsen further in the winter when viral and bacterial diseases increase,” said virologist Nazrul Islam, a member of the national technical advisory committee to tackle COVID-19.

“People are eager for the vaccine, but nobody is caring about the health rules like wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing,” Islam said.

The government is broadcasting lessons on television for school students, and universities are conducting online classes. Most children in Bangladesh do not have access to the internet.

Rights groups fear many are placed at risk by not returning to school, and said many children have been forced to work to help their families. Some girls have been forced into marriage to make up for their parents’ lost income.

“We fear the dropout rates could be 40 percent or even more,” said Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education.

“My daughter is in 8th grade but I will never be able to send her back to school,” said garment worker Maksuda Begum, who was laid off from her job in April, adding that her family had been surviving on charity.

“I dreamed of a better life for my daughter but my dream will remain a dream,” she said, fighting back tears.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/13/bangladesh-extends-school-shutdown-over-second-covid-19-wave