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What is Vaccine Tourism?

As the world shot down largely in 2020, tourism was badly hit with losses estimated at a whopping US$ 2 trillion-plus in global GDP. However, the new year and the slew of vaccines launched across the board have sent a positive signal to the tourism industry. Even as international borders open albeit slowly, the tourism industry is hopping on to the vaccine bandwagon to boost its sagging image.

Understanding Vaccine Tourism

So, what is vaccine tourism all about?

Well simply speaking it is traveling to get a COVID-19 vaccine jab in another country. While the concept of medical tourism (getting treatment in another country) is quite commonplace, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in vaccine shortages in many countries which means people are looking at going to another country for their shot. It would be wise to understand which states can give non-residents a COVID-19 vaccine. Some countries like the Maldives, easily the most popular tourist destination in the pandemic, has announced that they will soon offer visitors vaccinations on arrival. This is being planned as part of a three-pronged 3V strategy that encourages ‘visit, vaccinate and vacation’ for its tourists. It does help that 90% of the tourism industry and 65% of the eligible population have already received their shots. The tourism minister of Maldives, Abdulla Mausoom, has been quoted saying the country will offer vaccines to tourists once the country is fully vaccinated.

The Maldives
The Maldives

Boosting Tourism?

With much talk about vaccine passports doing the rounds, several countries are ready to open for tourism. However, the shadow of the virus is still around and one way to mitigate this is to offer packages that allow people to come in for an extended stay that includes vaccination and quarantine.

Recently a Dubai-based travel agency Arabian Nights Tours launched a 23-night package from Delhi to Moscow which quickly disappeared from the site. While the agency claimed that it was sold out, the real issue is that Russia will allow only those foreign citizens with registration in Moscow, residence permits, and Russian health insurance to be vaccinated. Hence it is important to read and understand the fine print before heading for jaunt and jab trips.

However, while citizens are the priority, there has also been an announcement on Sputnik V’s official Twitter account that indicated that the Sputnik V vaccination was going to be available for travelers in Russia after July. A recent report confirmed that the first group of four people drove 26 hours in a camper van to reach San Marino from Latvia to become the first visitors to take advantage of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine holiday package.

There have also been South Africans traveling to Zimbabwe and Canadians and Latinos traveling to the USA for jabs.

Question of Ethics

While vaccine tourism is something that people with deep pockets can aspire for, the question that also arises is whether it is ethical. Considering that vaccination drives have begun recently, several countries are now revising vaccine tourism packages as they have been under fire for offering vaccines to foreigners over residents.

A lot of the fallout is also happening, as these tours come with fancy price tags that the affluent can easily afford to leave out a large part of the vulnerable population. In fact, Glenn Cohen, a medical ethicist at Harvard Law School describes this issue very succinctly.

The other aspect is that people of color are more likely to be affected by the coronavirus as per a COVID Racial Tracker by NPR. This was also corroborated by a report that threw light on the Covid-19 mortality data by race and ethnicity across the United States.

While currently there are no laws that make it illegal to travel for vaccines, it is imperative to check and recheck before you embark on a journey to get the jab. And it is most vital for you to understand the reason why you have decided to travel for a vaccine. Research about the vaccine, your eligibility and accordingly make a decision that will be the right one.


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Left to right: Kaveri Lalchand, India Mask Project, Siddharth Ramalingam

#MaskPodu: Bay Area High Schooler Joins Forces With Mask India Project

As COVID-19 makes its way down to the southern parts of India, there has been a silver lining. We have seen a surge of humanity that is lending a helping hand to India in this time of crisis.

One such initiative is by a 14-year-old school student Siddharth Ramalingam. He started The Bay Area Mask Care Project last year where he would make and sell cloth masks to raise funds for COVID relief.

“Bay Area Mask Care was formed to give back to the community in several ways during the pandemic. The COVID situation in India drove me to explore avenues to contribute to the Indian community where my close family and friends currently live,” says Ramalingam.

Parallelly in India, after the lockdown last year, when all businesses had to shut, Chennai-based designer Kaveri Lalchand had an idea to start making masks which had become mandatory.

“As we were told we need to wear masks all the time as the simplest and most effective way to protect ourselves, we started making masks. And one year down the line we need to be protected now more than ever. We decided to focus on the welfare of the country and the health and safety of our employees, friends and family, and the community at large. Our masks have been hugely popular, and this was one way we could think of to give back to the community,” says Lalchand.

So, she started The Mask India Project that manufactures and distributes masks free of cost. Kaveri and The Mask India Project have joined hands with the Bay Area Mask Care Project (USA) and with Chennai Volunteers and the #MaskPodu movements to give away thousands of masks to people of Chennai. Masks are also being distributed through the Suyam Charitable Trust to children in rural areas of Tamil Nadu.

When Ramalingam heard about this project, he stepped up to help raise funds for relief work in India by reaching out to his network of people in the USA. “I have always been impressed with Ms. Kaveri Lalchand’s contribution to society. When I heard about ‘The Mask India Project’, I decided that partnering with her would be the best way for me to serve the Indian community. I am excited and honored to be part of this initiative,” says Ramalingam.

The lockdown has also affected businesses and daily wage earners. Through this initiative, we have been able to provide eight tailors with machines to work from home. As a brand, we supply all the materials used in the mask free of cost fabrics, elastic, and threads. The tailors are paid for every mask they stitch. They have done a fantastic job with the uninterrupted supply,” says Lalchand.

The masks that are distributed as part of this project are 3-layer, reusable cloth masks. The top layer is linen and the inner two layers are cotton. “The mask is printed with our logo – the map of India with a heart at its center. The heart is to honor the memory of all those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” says Lalchand.

The Mask India Project also works with Chennai Volunteers, a voluntary organization started by Rinku Mecheri, that manages welfare and relief work in fields like gender equality, disaster relief, and uplifting the less fortunate. Lalchand has tied up with the Chennai Volunteers to distribute our masks to the people of Chennai.

The #MaskPodu movement was created to bring about awareness about the importance of wearing a mask and wearing it right (not under your nose or on your chin!) This was created by two responsible citizens of Chennai, Kishore Manohar, and Siddarth Ganeriwala. They have spread the message using a very catchy tune that has been written by Aravind-Shankar the musician who made the famous Chennai Super Kings song “Whistle Podu.

“We will be giving our masks to them for distribution amongst the people of Chennai. The song has also been made into Kannada and Malayalam with the Hindi version underway,” says Lalchand.

As the predicted third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to affect children the most, the Suyam Charitable Trust decided to raise money to provide masks to children across districts of Tamil Nadu. With vaccinations for children still a little further away, masking up is the only proven method to protect oneself.

This is also why Maya (16) and Eka (13) Kachibhatla, a sister and brother duo from Chennai wanted to contribute towards COVID relief in a more meaningful way and associated with Lalchand and her team. They started to raise an amount of Rs 30000 (USD 410), which they could surpass and now The Mask India Project is providing them and the Suyam trust with 7000 children’s masks. And to make the masks more fun, the masks are being printed with a heart or a star or a design of an elephant or some other cute design.

Since its inception, the team has started seeing a sustained increase in the demand for masks. “We have now committed 1000 masks for an entire village in Haryana. We have also tied up with the Apollo Shine Foundation to distribute masks to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and we hope to help more,” concludes Lalchand.

If you want to help contact the team on their Facebook page.


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Mind Matters.

Mind Matters: Mental Health in South Asian Americans

A recent article in India West reported that a higher percentage of South Asian Americans, especially between the ages of 15 and 24, had been found to exhibit depressive symptoms and a higher rate of suicide among young South Asian American women compared to the general US population. Likewise, studies have spoken of how South Asian immigrants have high rates of mental health disorders that go unaddressed.

Asian American Connect

Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan
Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan

Other studies have shown that immigrants from South Asia to the USA and their children face numerous mental health challenges.

“This could be on account of acculturation, that is cultural or psychological changes that occur as a result of prolonged first-hand contact between two different belief systems or cultures. Stress predominantly originates from their attempts to incorporate ‘American’ traits in their own culture. This eventually shows up as a cultural conflict. Multiple other factors contribute to this stress, including alienation and separation from their families and loved ones, language barriers preventing true socialization, uncertainty around their immigration status, financial stressors, as well as in certain cases, overt or perceived discrimination, and more generally, barriers to cultural integration,” says Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan, Consultant Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital.

Conflict Concerns

Eventually, this cultural conflict leads to uncertainty around belonging. This is particularly more visible in the workplace. The effects of prolonged acculturation and discrimination result in a wide spectrum of psychological disorders over time. These include depression (primarily due to isolation, financial stress), somatization (i.e., self-interpretation of mental health symptoms as physical symptoms and not seeking help), anxiety (again on account of alienation), substance abuse disorders, especially alcohol.

“Such disorders have a dark underbelly, as they are one of the key reasons for increasing rates of suicides among South Asian immigrants in America. The tragedy is that all the above is neither widely known nor acknowledged. The issue is accentuated further by the challenges associated with seeking help from mental health professionals in the form of psychological counseling. If one gets into the weeds of the issue, one realizes that such immigrants have limited means of confiding their feelings with mental health professionals in the USA, given cultural barriers and differences. It is difficult for professional mental health professionals to understand their feelings and challenges, correlate with their culture and truly empathize with them,” adds Mahajan.

Ethnicity Woes

Dr. Sahiba Sethi
Dr. Sahiba Sethi

South Asian countries have been right in the center of the pandemic conversation throughout. Though the impact for South Asian Americans is even more convoluted. At the height of the pandemic, last year xenophobia gripped multiple countries and this community bore much of the backlash for no fault of their own. The lingering effects continue in a lot of pockets. The impact that it would have had on their mental health would be enormous. 

“Personal stories shared by individuals across the world via my online counseling sessions gave me an insight into the South Asian American community and their fears. The last 14 months, we have seen an increased prevalence of nonpsychotic depression, pre-anxiety, somatic concerns, alcohol-related disorders, and insomnia in general. Parents worried about their children’s safety have given rise to psychological symptoms correlated more with physical complaints of fatigue and pain in older adults. This was directly related to social media use, misinformation, xenophobia, and social distancing. The resulting isolation made a lot of people see the bad rather than the good in a community. Frontline workers reported guilt, stigma, anxiety, and poor sleep quality, which were related to the lack of availability of adequate personal protective equipment, increased workload, and discrimination,” says Sahiba Sethi, Counseling Psychologist, Ummeed Healing.

Apps as a Tool

Dr. Nabhit Kapur
Dr. Nabhit Kapur

Apps are just a click away, so are easy to access. 

“And some may already be socially isolated and experiencing loneliness which can worsen mental health. COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke,” says Nabhit Kapur, Founder President of PeacfulMind Foundation.

Apps help people connect in their native languages to a therapist who understands their culture and can empathize with their situation. Some of these apps are powered in the background by Artificial Intelligence.

“These apps help such immigrant patients deal with their mental health issues in a much better way. Their biggest advantage is the patient’s perceived lack of being judged by a third person, resulting in lower stigma towards using them as against meeting a mental health professional in person. This stigma is a huge barrier especially in the South Asian community given the cultural background. A key issue with such apps, however, is in certain instances the patients may not feel truly connected with the device, which can result in a decline in their usage over time. A recently launched app for this purpose is SAMHIN (South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network). Another one that has been in existence for a longer duration is SASMHA (South Asian Sexual and Mental Alliance). These apps can help connect people who need psychological counseling, with various platforms, to seek support and find mental peace,” says Mahajan.

COVID Angle

Dr. Prakriti
Dr. Prakriti Poddar

Statistics reveal that only 23% of non-Americans in the USA seek mental health, against the 40% of Americans born in the USA. Patients from such communities find it arduous to find a mental health professional from their own community, who can understand their situation and truly support them. Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the above dynamic. As is very well known, the sheer incidence of mental health issues has gone up significantly through this pandemic due to heightened financial insecurity, lack of social contact. For the immigrants, seeking medical help in these times has become even more challenging.

Prakriti Poddar, Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation says, “a 2018 study found out that stress related to acculturation, trauma, and discrimination has been linked with depression, anxiety and substance abuse among South Asian Americans. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected South Asian American communities by increasing stress and anxiety levels in terms of health concerns and issues such as employment and housing.  Due to the uptick in violence and hate against the South Asian American community, racism has also severely impacted the mental health of the community.”

Breaking Taboos

Dr. Aparna Methil
Dr. Aparna Methil

In India, it is an uphill task to change perceptions related to mental health predominantly due to the stigma associated with it. The challenge lies in creating the right kind of awareness about mental health problems and encouraging people to seek the right kind of help from mental health professionals.

“Mental health crisis can be attributed to the outbreak of Covid-19 and resultant loneliness, isolation, fear of loss of life, financial insecurity, job cuts, salary cuts, and overall economic uncertainty. The common mental health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger, and fear reported among Indians. Stress, anxiety, and depression have been closely related with the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Aparna Methil, Vice-President, Operations, Mpower. Mental health issues faced by South Asian immigrants in the USA are immense and one of the ways to tackle the challenge is to take the help of technology. After all wellness in a click matters the most.

Mental Health App List


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Sleep Tight, Sleep Right

A good sleep cycle ensures optimal health, so monitoring how you sleep and practicing proper sleeping habits is essential for a healthy and fulfilling life. There are many adverse effects to improper sleep: Harvard Medical School found a strong link between depression and insomnia; one out of five Americans have obstructive sleep apnea; and an NCBI report also speaks of the elevated cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus risk observed in South Asian population and the potential of sleep interventions to minimize this disparity.

Mattress Matters

During sleep, our bodies repair themselves having a healing effect on our psychological processes as well. According to the Harvard Medical School, there are more than 70 types of sleep disorders with the most familiar being insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.

“While several factors affect sleep quality and cause sleep deprivation, one of the major causes that can usually escape our notice is the mattress that you sleep on. A bad mattress can ruin your sleep, making it hard for you to fall asleep as well as stay asleep for eight to nine hours every night. It can also impact the blood circulation in the body, affecting the amount of deep sleep and rest you get during a sleep cycle. And if you have sleep-related health issues and even chronic back pain, then a bad mattress can further worsen your condition. Therefore, investing in the right kind of mattress is extremely important to improve your sleep quality,” says Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Director & Co-founder, Wakefit.

Mattresses being made at the Wakefit factory.

A good mattress should distribute your bodyweight uniformly so that you do not wake up with pain in your neck, shoulders, and hips. The mattress should not unnaturally bend your spine thus causing back pain and postural defects.

Smita Murarka, Vice President, Marketing & E-commerce, Duroflex adds, “a comfortable and supportive sleep surface is the key to unlock great sleep. Our range of mattresses and research-backed and scientifically engineered to provide optimum support and comfort. Our signature range Duropedic has an advanced 5 zoned orthopedic support system that provides differential support for different parts of the body. This technology has been tested and recommended by doctors by the National Health Academy.”

Act Now

Lack of sleep can have significant repercussions on one’s physical and mental well-being. The weakened immune response, decrease your ability to concentrate, impair your cognitive function, increase the risk of injury and physiological ailments, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes among others. Lack of sleep can have an adverse on your mental health as well. It can impact your mood, ability to handle stress and reduce emotional resilience. If you are experiencing morning headaches, daytime fatigue, loss of focus, you must consider getting tested.

“The recently launched OneSleepTest by Ectosense with a small disposable NightOwl sensor is a comprehensive and reliable home sleep test kit that guarantees accurate results. It provides a verified e-report from a sleep physician and sleep coach assistance enabled by ResMed in 3 to 5 days post the test period from the comfort of your home,” says Dr. Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed.

Tech Talk

Digitization in the healthcare industry has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders and has brought it to our homes’ comfort. With cloud-connected technology and remote monitoring, most mild to moderate sleep disorders can be treated without having to be hospitalized and in a cost-effective way. With the availability of numerous sleep tracking devices and apps, it has become easier to understand your sleep patterns and even identify disturbed sleep reasons. You can wear tracking devices on your wrists, clip them on your pillow, or rest on the bedside table.

Balasubramanyam SV, Founder, Durfi Retail says “we recently rolled out India’s first Hempseed oil-infused mattress, Durfi is the first company to develop and marketing this product in India, this product also a blend of tech and tradition. Hempseed oil infused cotton candy memory foam mattresses are India’s first natural oil-infused mattress, the mattress surface is softer and cozy, the mattress provides great comfort to the body posture.”

Tools & Techniques

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing therapy that uses natural plant essential oils to promote health and well-being and can have a positive impact on sleep too.

Lotus seeds and milk from ITC

“Lavender, Marjoram, Chamomile, Sandalwood, and Neroli are the main ingredients that have shown properties of calming the nerves and promoting relaxation. They can be taken in the form of teas, rubs, in diffusers, in your bath or directly applied to the skin before bedtime. However, the right combination and formulation is important,” says Karina Kapoor, Brand Head of Puressentiel.


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.