Bonn resident with family in India "Almost every day I have to offer my condolences"

Bad Godesberg · From her home in Bad Godesberg, Disha Uppal follows how her family and friends in her native India are fighting coronavirus. The 41-year-old has experienced how dangerous the virus is within her own family.

 Disha Uppal is worried about her relatives in India because of the pandemic. Her cell phone is her contact to her home country.

Disha Uppal is worried about her relatives in India because of the pandemic. Her cell phone is her contact to her home country.

Foto: Axel Vogel

When Disha Uppal's cell phone rings, the news is usually sad. The pandemic is raging mercilessly in her native India. "Almost every day I have to offer my condolences," says Uppal, who has been working for Welthungerhilfe in Bad Godesberg since 2018. "Just recently, a former colleague died who was younger than me," the 41-year-old says quietly. Besides the British mutation, there is also the highly contagious Indian variant, which now also affects younger people.

Together with her nine-year-old daughter, she lives in Rüngsdorf, but the rest of her family lives in northern and central India: Her husband is a professor in Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and her parents live in the state of Madhya Pradesh. "We worry quite a bit," she says, describing the situation. Before the new wave, she said, she talked to her parents once a week on the phone via Whatsapp. "Now it's two to three times a day," Uppal says. From Germany, she goes through contingency plans in her mind. "In the district where my parents live, there is a hospital with 400 beds for 260,000 inhabitants plus the people from the countryside," says the marketing and communications specialist. At least 160 beds with an oxygen supply are available.

Her aunt died of Covid-19 within a few days

The 41-year-old has experienced in her own family how quickly it can happen. "My aunt had written on Facebook that she wasn't feeling well, and a few days later she was dead," she recounts quietly. In the meantime, Uppal followed from Bad Godesberg as former students of her aunt struggled to find a hospital for her. "I can assure you that everything you see in the German news is the truth," says Uppal, who studied German literature in New Delhi and political communication in London. People are dying in the corridors and on the streets in front of hospitals because they are completely overloaded. Those who manage to get a bed have to rely on relatives camping out in front of the hospital and getting the medicine themselves at the pharmacy after waiting in line for hours.

The total number of deaths resulting from Covid-19 in India has now risen to more than 250,000. There are more than 23 million infected people. In absolute terms, the continent with its more than 1.3 billion inhabitants is the worst affected by the pandemic after the USA. But why was it all calm in 2020? At the time, she says, there was a strict lockdown. As recently as December, she said everyone had assured her, "The virus is here, but we have it under control." The country opened up too soon, she says, and there were political and religious events. "We had elections in five states, for example”, Uppal says. There is mandatory masking, but many are too poor to afford the medical versions. "And home office is just not an option for the migrant workers and small shopkeepers," she explains.

Welthungerhilfe has sent 100,000 euros in emergency aid to India in addition to its normal allotted budget. "There are now no more training sessions through our nutrition program, but we are distributing food and hygiene supplies, offering hotlines and setting up quarantine centers in particularly affected rural regions." At the same time, education is being provided on vaccinations, because many people are afraid of them. There are two vaccines, one of which was developed in the country itself and the other from Astrazeneca and Oxford University. Welthungerhilfe, along with other organizations, is advocating that patent rights to the vaccines be waived so that more vaccine can be produced worldwide - including for other nations, she said: "Capacity and know-how also exist in India and South Africa, for example."

Actually, her husband would have come to Germany for a longer time in May. "He loves Bonn and knows it almost better than I do," she says. Now they are hoping it will work out for their daughter's birthday in August. The long-distance relationship is not new: Uppal has worked abroad before, as a foreign language editor (English and Hindi) for Deutsche Welle in Bonn from 2004 to 2010. Incidentally, it was the tennis players Steffi Graf and Boris Becker that got her interested in the German language and thus her studies as a teenager: "I wanted to do something out of the ordinary.”

Orig. text: Silke Elbern

Translation: ck

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