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Covid-19: Mumbai's 'Oxygen Man' lends a helping hand amid pandemic tragedy

Linah Baliga/Mumbai
Filed on April 23, 2021

Shahnawaz Shaikh sold off his car, a sports utility vehicle (SUV), for Dh107.72 in July 2020 in a bid to help Covid-19 patients in distress.

Shahnawaz Shaikh's team of volunteers at the grocery store-turned-Covid-19 war roon at Malada, Mumbai. Supplied photos

Shahnawaz Shaikh sold off his SUV to fund supply of oxygen cylinders from a grocery store-turned-war room.


They call him Mumbai's Oxygen Man, but the Covid-19 patients' relatives who have been receiving timely help call him a "farishta" (angel) from heaven.

Mumbai’s Oxygen Man is 32-year-old Shahnawaz Shaikh, who lives in a quaint, and narrow bylane at Malwani, Kharodi, in Mumbai’s western suburbs.

Shaikh’s heart beats for the distressed and his emotional outpourings were further aroused at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. He sold off his car, a sports utility vehicle (SUV), for Dh122,646 in July 2020 in a bid to help Covid-19 patients in distress.

He was ingenious enough in early April when Mumbai was hit by a second and more lethal wave of the viral scourge. He used the rest of his savings and converted a grocery store at Malad into a war room, which is equipped to supply oxygen cylinders to Covid-19 patients for free.

Cylinders of oxygen, which has emerged as a lifeline for the contagion-hit patients, are being sold in open markets for upwards of Dh300 amid rampant corruption compounded by a near collapse of a creaking healthcare mechanism, much to the dismay of desperate and helpless Covid-19 patients’ kin.

Shaikh poured his heart out to Khaleej Times, as his good turn during the Holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13, has struck a big chord among distressed Mumbaikars.

“I had driven around the SUV for only two years. It had a unique and exclusive VIP number 007, which is synonymous with fictional British secret service agent 007. I sold it because I didn’t want to live in luxury amid the untold sufferings of people around me. I’ve converted a grocery store into a Covid-19 war room for patients’ kin, who are making frantic calls for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and essential drugs like Remdesvir, all of which, unfortunately, are in acute short supply. I’m a phone call away for people in distress,” he said.

Shaikh suffered a personal Covid-19 tragedy last year, when one of his friend’s cousins from Mumbra, a congested suburb in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), died of the viral outbreak.

“No ventilator was available when she, all of 26 years, died amid the lockdown restrictions in Mumbra. She was six months pregnant. She was rushed to a hospital in a three-wheeler, but the facility didn’t have a ventilator. Oxygen was arranged while she was being taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the contagion after four hours,” he said.

Her tragic death was a life-altering experience for benevolent Shaikh.

Soon, he would use his SUV as an ambulance to ferry Covid-19 patients to hospitals and also buy medicines for them.

The war room is a 20-member strong team of volunteers comprising youth who have regular day jobs.

Shaikh is self-employed and works as a building contractor in Mumbai.

The war room’s volunteers comprise four sets of people: one team fills empty oxygen cylinders, and another team delivers them. The third and the fourth team has been assigned to arrange hospital beds and a task force to contact oxygen cylinder dealers, respectively.

"We contact dealers and inform the patients' kin about the availability of cylinders. Last year, there was no war room. This time volunteers, all of whom are from Malad, joined me. They are working pro-bono," said Shaikh.

The war room is getting around 500 distress calls a day, as Mumbai reels under the fresh wave of the viral outbreak.

So far, it has helped 600 Covid-19 patients with oxygen cylinders.

"We've bought 200 oxygen cylinders and distributed them among Covid-19 patients for free. All that a patient's kin need to avail the facility is to bring a copy of an Aadhaar card, which is equivalent to an Emirates ID, and get the cylinders refilled from dealers, who have been a source of great help and support amid this unprecedented healthcare crisis," he added.

Asif Noor Mohammed Shaikh, a resident of Malad, said his mother's oxygen saturation level had dipped to 77 per cent on April 20, and she had to be admitted to Seven Hills hospital in Marol, which is run by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

"However, prior to her admission, a doctor at the hospital said she needed to be administered oxygen at home. I contacted the BMC's war room, but failed to get hold of an oxygen cylinder," Asif said.

Later, a desperate Asif got in touch with Shaikh.

"In 10 minutes, Shaikh came on a two-wheeler to deliver the oxygen cylinders personally at my home. He interacted with the doctor and stayed at my place for two hours and ensured my mother's saturation level is under control," Asif added.

No wonder Asif calls Shaikh a "farishta" amid these Covid-19-induced hard times.

"If he hadn't delivered the oxygen cylinders on time, my mother's condition would've aggravated. Now, she is stable," he added.

Similarly, Eijaz Farooq Patel, a resident of Hill Road in Bandra (West), Mumbai, a non-governmental organisation's (NGO) authorities told him about Shaikh's good deeds while he was running from pillar to post for an oxygen cylinder for his father, who had contracted SARS-CoV-2, which caused Covid-19.

"He gave me oxygen cylinders for free between April 6 and 9 at the height of their acute shortage," Patel said. He is touched by Shaikh's humanitarian work in keeping with the Ramadan spirit.

"My father has recovered from the viral infection. No hospital beds were available. He underwent treatment at home. Shaikh's benevolence saved my father's life," he added.

Shaikh explained the motto behind his charitable work. "We're doing this while keeping out fast during the Holy month of Ramadan. This is a battle for us. We must win over the Covid-19 challenge and the only way to save humanity by standing by each other amid these difficult times," he added.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

And Shaikh's good Samaritan act is an ode to the resilience of Mumbaikars.





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