By Dr Sandhya Ramanathan
My rather unique and exhilarating pandemic journey has shown me that one voice of reason can make a difference in a time of global chaos, and what’s more, miraculously that ‘voice of reason’, could be mine…
My name is Sandhya Ramanathan – prior to the pandemic I identified myself as a GP, the hands-on mother of two teenagers and the supportive wife of a cardiothoracic surgeon. These three constants in my identity remain unchanged; however, during the pandemic, I took on an entirely new and deeply fulfilling role. I became a Global Health Advocate. I was born in India. My family migrated to Sydney, Australia when I was 3 months old which is where I was raised and educated. I graduated from UNSW Medicine and gained my RACGP Fellowship before my family relocated to Auckland, New Zealand after a brief stint in Boston and New York. I soon began working as a GP in Auckland. I found the hardest adjustment was navigating a very different health system to what I was previously used to in Australia. Working in low socioeconomic areas made me become very aware of the economics of medicine. I often had to carefully justify the cost of the tests I wanted to order and think creatively about the treatments I needed to prescribe.
When the reality of the rapidly accelerating global pandemic sunk into my psyche in March 2020, I found myself reeling with shock and felt deeply vulnerable as a double-doctor couple with no other family supports locally. I quickly realised that disseminating rapidly evolving medical information in an easily digestible form to lay people was one way I could make a tangible difference. After all, every mind changed was potentially many lives saved. For someone who was normally very quiet on social media, I suddenly changed face. I spoke up on every social media platform from Facebook to Twitter. After the insistence of a younger cousin in Canada, I began recording self-help YouTube videos in April 2020. The first two of these videos were entitled; “Simple Strategies and Home Remedies for Fighting Covid-19 by Dr Sandhya Ramanathan” and “Common Household Disinfectants that will destroy Covid-19 by Dr Sandhya Ramanathan”. These videos were very well received by my patients and growing online community, which included many other doctors.
On June 14, 2020, I uploaded my third and rather self-defining video, “Home Medical Management Plan for Mild Covid-19 by Dr Sandhya Ramanathan”. I did this shortly after treating my older cousin in Delhi who had come down with mild COVID-19. India was experiencing its first major wave of COVID-19 at the time. I was acutely aware that many people globally were facing the same scenario my cousin faced ie. limited access to COVID-19 testing and hospital level care. I was furious that there was no practical information available from authorities such as WHO on how to optimally manage the infection at home. My 18-minute YouTube video was recorded in one take on a Sunday evening while busily packing off my son for school camp. I sat perched atop my study desk so my UNSW medical degree plaque would be in clear view over my shoulder. I then calmly outlined my carefully researched 3-step active home management plan, to prevent mild COVID-19 from becoming severe.
To my amazement, my video became “viral” overnight on all social media platforms globally. My timely demonstration of the importance of pulse oximetry monitoring at home helped reduce the pressure on stressed medical resources globally. Due to the overwhelming demand (650K views from 118 countries), I subsequently created 16 different language dubs (Hindi – with 5 million views, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Malayalam, Arabic, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Sinhala, Kannada & German) of my video with the kind help of global collaborators. I feel incredibly grateful that this heartfelt video of mine has received widespread global acclaim and media coverage, with innumerable people globally attributing their recovery from COVID-19 infection to my suggested interventions.
In July 2020, I also made a mental health self-help video entitled: “Breaking Down Depression and Anxiety with Dr Sandhya Ramanathan” to address the rising rates of mental health issues caused by the pandemic. This is perhaps my most valuable video which was relaunched in 2021 on commercial TV in India as part of a Wellness Series by Tata Sky. In February 2021, I was awarded the “To Infinity and Beyond” award for by NZ Doctor General Practice magazine, and in August 2021, I was awarded a Community Service Medal by The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners . Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of my journey has been the relationship I have forged with India’s National Institute of Disaster Management (Department of Home Affairs, Govt. of India), for whom I conducted five webinars to help India’s fight against COVID-19. The icing on the cake was being given the opportunity to address His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in November 2021. I continue to share articles and tips on social media and remain committed to helping as many as I can stay healthy and stay safe as we continue to navigate the shifting sands of our new “living with COVID-19” reality.