Looking for verified leads for COVID-19 emergency? This platform can help

A team of volunteers verifies the leads multiple times to ensure people in need are not defrauded and can access the latest information on beds, oxygen, plasma, and doctors.

In India, the second wave of COVID-19 has been far more devastating than the first one. Every day, the headlines inform us of people waiting for beds in ICUs, while social media platforms are flooded with requests for plasma, oxygen concentrators, and even food services. 

Lucknow-based serial entrepreneur Shrishti Sahu found out first-hand how hard it was to get reliable help when 18 members of her family, including herself, were infected by COVID-19.

“Five of them, including my parents, had to be hospitalised. Sadly, my dad’s older brother passed away about a fortnight ago. We could not find any beds in Lucknow, so we had to bring them to Delhi overnight and admit them to a hospital,” she says.

While at the hospital, she further witnessed the trauma others were going through. “I was seeing these people just waiting for plasma donors, who never showed up. Families were breaking down in front of me and I felt so helpless,” recalls Shrishti.

Shrishti Sahu and Siddhant Nayak, co-founders of Verified Covid Leads

That’s when she decided to build Verified Covid Leads (VCL), a platform that would aggregate verified data from different sources for people to access easily. 

“I came home one night and started building this platform. It's built on very simple tools with the few leads I had gathered over the last few days. I just started putting everything on a spreadsheet and took the website live in one or two hours,” says Shrishti. 

“When I built the site, I thought that even if we helped 100 people, it would be a good outcome,” she adds. Since its launch, the site has registered over 450,000 users and garnered more than 3.5 million views with a network across Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Patna, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jaipur, Chennai, Baroda, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Dehradun, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, and Hyderabad. 

The platform has also been commended on social media by well-known personalities like Kapil Misra, Tapsee Pannu, and Rajdeep Sardesai.

Shrishti was joined in her endeavour by her friend Siddhant Nahta, who had faced a similar COVID-crisis in his family and decided to join VCL when he started receiving panic calls about medicines, plasma, and beds from his close friends and relatives. 

He helped expand VCL in Maharashtra. They were also supported by lawyer Ish Maini and Netaji Subhas University of Technology graduate Yogesh Arora, who are a part of the core team, and help with volunteer management and expanding the coverage to multiple cities across India. 

“We have a team of over 200 (40 volunteers and partner organisations) that are helping us to get a lot of this data. The resources available on the platform are for oxygen, plasma, ICU beds, medication such as FabiFlu, nursing/doctor consults, and food delivery services. We are verifying this in real-time, and the data is updated on the website every three hours. We keep updating the leads for every city,” says Shrishti.

She explains that the team sources the leads from partner organisations and via Twitter, Telegram, Discord, and other platforms. 

“However, a lot of resources just automatically update the data without verifying it. What we do differently is that our data is updated three times a day. It takes time to get leads and our volunteers make hundreds of calls to make sure to verify them on the same day. You can see a time stamp on the site to indicate when the lead was last verified. The last thing we want to do at this time is give false hope,” says Shrishti.

In addition to finding leads, people can also submit verified leads on the platform. Shrishti says that they have received over 500 leads, but they are uploaded only after the team verifies them.

Earlier this week, VCL partnered with an initiative to supply oxygen concentrators to the outskirts and slum areas around Mumbai as well. 

Shrishti says that the biggest challenge has been the scarcity of resources. The second challenge has been the number of people looking to cheat the ones desperate for help. 

“We are trying our best to address these issues by having a very proactive effort of verification and consumer sensitisation for things like avoiding pre-payment to vendors, taking Aadhaar and other details before making advance payments. We are trying to take the problem of misinformation and drive the change we wish to see in society,” she says.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta