Harvard Indian-American student launches initiative to cope with coronavirus

Pooja Chandrashekar, a first-year medical student at Harvard Medical School.

A 22-year-old Harvard medical student, daughter of Indian Immigrants from Bangalore, has launched an initiative to help immigrants fight the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., by providing them a multi-lingual factsheet about when and how to seek medical help and the general do’s and don’ts to keep safe.

Pooja Chandrashekar, a first-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, and her peers at HMS launched the initiative to translate accessible COVID-19 information after realizing that many among the vulnerable section of the population have less access to proper and correct health care information both because of lack of English-language proficiency and inability to separate facts from wrong information and even fiction.

“Our goal is to translate accessible coronavirus information which we will then provide to community organizations and clinics across the country and specially to the non-English speaking immigrants,” Chandrashekar, who launched the initiative christened COVID 19 Health Literacy Project and is its founder and director last week, told this correspondent.

She said a lot of medical students have been thinking about how they can meaningfully contribute to prevention of Coronavirus. We realized that although the virus is growing and spreading across the country, there has been a real lack of information that are available in different languages.

“I thought since as medical students we do have a better understanding of medical information than others and have the capacity to release this information to the public and we can translate the information in many languages to make it actually accessible by immigrants in no time, it would be really helpful to embark on the initiative,” Chandrashekar, who was born and raised in Virginia to Indian American parents, told India Abroad.

“So, I launched this program and it quickly expanded within a few days into a national coalition of more than 150 medical students from around the country representing over 35 institutions, including Harvard,” she said.

“What we are doing is checking accurate information which is already out there from CDC fact sheets and other government agencies. We are checking all that information and condensing it into one page so we can distribute them among people through community organizations with whom we are in touch,” Chandrashekar said, adding that “it is being done actually to help patients and the vulnerable communities so they understand how to take care of themselves and their folks. That is really our motivation here.”

She said the expert-verified materials are being posted on Harvard Health website and also the organization’s own website to help the community organizations to easily access the materials before they download the material in different languages and print and disseminate the information to the population locally.

“It is very much a grassroots effort and involves partnering with all different community organizations,” Chandrashekar, who graduated from Harvard College and worked one year in India as a Full Bright scholar in 2018-19 before joining Harvard said.

She said at every stage of this process the materials have been vetted by the Harvard Health and the HMS faculty.

The initiative took shape through her call to action on twitter and grew within a few days into a national group of medical students representing different schools and countries and languages. “As aspiring physicians we're passionate about supporting our most vulnerable patient populations,” she said.

Apart from Indian languages, the Coronavirus information is available in Chinese, French, Filipino, Spanish and Arabic.

The website is: www.covid19healthliteracyproject.com

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