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India, home to almost 500 SITA employees, has experienced record high COVID-19 cases, with numbers reaching nearly 3.1 million over the last two weeks. Many hospitals have been running out of essentials, including beds, oxygen cylinders, and medicine, and our colleagues and families across India have required urgent support. 

The pandemic has reached alarming proportions, and SITA in India has been impacted. We have recorded 78 COVID-19 cases among our employees this year, and sadly one of our colleagues based in Lucknow recently passed away because of the disease. Despite air traffic being down 67% YoY in India according to SITA data, 50 percent of our employees continue to work onsite with customers to keep operations running at airports and borders across the country.

Our team in India and around the world have come together to take action. Last June, SITA donated 30 million INR (approx. US$ 408K) to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) for COVID-19 support in India. Beyond this donation, SITA’s priority is to support our people, our customers, and the greater community facing this devastating second wave. 

Employees join forces to staff a 24/7 volunteer helpline

On April 26, as it was becoming apparent that COVID-19 cases in India were surging, SITA formed a crisis management team to monitor the situation in India closely. The team identified urgent areas of support to guide efforts on the ground. Sponsoring vaccinations for employees and their families and partnering with our airport clients to vaccinate our frontline workers became the number one priority.    

In addition to vaccine distribution, the team underlined a need for accurate information on the latest bed availability and how to access resources.  

With the help of Lalit Tiwari and Siddharth Chaturvedi, our HR country managers in India, we launched SITA CARES, a 24/7 volunteer helpline to assist employees with arranging those medical needs out of our largest offices in Delhi and Mumbai.

“The number of cases was outpacing India’s healthcare infrastructure, and a lot of our employees and their families were struggling to find hospital beds, oxygen, medicine — everything was running short,” explains Siddharth. “Lalit and I started this off as a two-man team, aiding on a case by case basis. Even if a request came in at midnight, we would start making calls to figure out solutions.”

Luckily, help was at hand as colleagues rallied to offer their free time to volunteer for the service. Before long, around 15 SITA employees were volunteering around the clock on the helpline.

That help was desperately needed. “At the height of the crisis we were taking between 50 and 60 requests for support each day,” added Siddharth, emphasizing the importance of the helpline.

Now that the daily requests have dropped, one of the volunteers, Atul Dubey, can reflect on what this helpline achieved. “In a country with a huge population where information on available medical supplies often came with a short shelf-life, the volunteers provided real-time information to help employees and their families arrange urgent medical needs.”  

Telemedicine support for free doctor consultations

With the surge of recent COVID-19 cases eclipsing the totals seen in India in the whole of 2020, doctors and hospitals have been stretched to a breaking point. Telemedicine has become one of the essential services in strengthening the response to the virus. As the second wave took hold, the team quickly  selected and onboarded a vendor to provide free and unlimited doctor consultations for employees and dependents for one year.

Lalit can’t stress the importance of this enough. “There were long queues everywhere — at clinics, hospitals … waiting times to consult with doctors had been reported in days. By SITA offering telemedicine support, my colleagues and their families have had almost immediate access to professional advice in a matter of minutes.”

In the short time since its launch, 50 percent of SITA’s Indian workforce has used the service. "This resource has been so effective in assisting our employees across the country," says Lalit. "One colleague was amazed at the consultation she received just minutes after initiating a request."

COVID-19 awareness and emotional wellbeing

Even though the SITA team did an incredible job to launch telemedicine support and a volunteer helpline, Lalit and Siddharth were aware that there was still a great deal of work around COVID-19 awareness, especially for the frontline workers spread across 50+ Indian airports.

“There has been a lot of false information around the disease, and debunking some of the myths became a priority,” says Lalit. “The health and safety of the 500 employees in India is the number one priority, so SITA launched an awareness webinar where medical experts addressed the questions from colleagues across all 29 states on the effective ways to stay safe and healthy.

Among all of the great initiatives, the team's focus on wellbeing has received the most positive feedback. Lalit and Siddharth made it their job to remain in touch with every employee affected by COVID-19, checking in with them daily until they have had a full recovery.

As one colleague emailed to show his gratitude, “The last month has been incredibly challenging for the Indian subcontinent, affecting our colleagues mentally and emotionally. But your proactive approach for all the various teams here has helped ease the struggle. You arranged the different awareness sessions, checked in on the wellbeing of employees, and provided multiple types of available support around the clock. Many thanks for all your help during this time—you guys rock.”

The battle against COVID-19 affects us all, and as the team has shown in India, we can only win it together. While the fight is far from over, we've witnessed the power of coming together as one to provide support for the communities where we live and work. At SITA, we're striving to protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and their families, and it's heartening to see our community in India come together and take action to help.