Pharmacist launches drive to help COVID-ravaged India

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A Ballarat pharmacist is urging locals, and colleagues around the country alike, to help pitch in to the battle against COVID-19 in India

When Bobby Mehta moved to Australia from the UK in 2010, he already had a lot of experience harnessing local contacts to help those in need.

In 2001, Mr Mehta, whose parents had emigrated from Northern India to the UK, began to play friendly fund-raising football matches, with staff from his pharmacy pitched against local businesses, and money raised going to charities.

This led to his founding of the SMS non-profit: Support, Motivate and Serve.

“It sort of snowballed from there to become a not for profit group, where we did whatever we could to help local, national and international charities,” Mr Mehta told the AJP.

“I moved to Australia in 2010 and wanted to do the same here.”

At the time Queensland was experiencing severe flooding, and the first Australian SMS event raised money to help people affected by it.

Now, Mr Mehta has launched the SMS India Covid Appeal, to raise much-needed funds for CARE Australia, which is providing resources and equipment on the ground in India.

“They were one of only 14 charities in Australia rated as ‘Australia’s Best Charities 2020’ because they have robust financial and governance systems so people can donate with peace of mind,” says Mr Mehta, who is now one of the City of Ballarat Intercultural Ambassadors and works for the Blackmores Institute as well as in a local pharmacy.

Bobby Mehta.

“I’m just heartbroken that the reported figures suggest that a person is dying every 20 seconds in India – and that the real figure is probably more like one person every five seconds, given the numbers are probably about four times greater than reported.

“It’s really scary,” he told the AJP. “We’ve had stories of friends and family [in India] who have been affected and died. You’d be hard-pressed to find any person with friends and family in India that doesn’t have at least one person that they know affected, or lost somebody.

“People are just frightened to go out. You hear stories – I heard yesterday of a couple who hadn’t left home for three months, and they still managed to get it [COVID-19].

“It’s the world we live in, unfortunately. It’s just mind-blowing when you think about what’s happened.”

Mr Mehta researched charities and settled on CARE, which he says has been providing essentials such as hospital beds, oxygen, vaccination, PPE and sanitation on the ground and has already built a number of temporary hospitals.

He says he hopes Australia’s pharmacists and their staff will “dig deep” to help.

“It’s a cliché, but every dollar will make a difference,” he told the AJP. “It’s easy to forget about it when it’s not happening on our own doorstep; but people are dying, suffocating, they can’t breathe, the streets are littered with people.

“It’s at times like this we realise how lucky we are. We’re in a privileged position if we can help others.”

Mr Mehta has also engaged with the Ballarat community to lend a hand, organising a movie fundraiser, a badminton tournament, and a pickleball tournament – “it’s the fastest-growing sport in north America!” – as well as a charity soccer match and basketball exhibition match in June.

“So I’m a busy man at the moment,” he says. “I’m reaching out to friends for favours.”

Readers can donate to the SMS India COVID appeal, which is aiming to raise $50,000, here.

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