Medical crowdfunding has become essential in India, but it’s leaving many behind

Article by Akanksha Singh: “In May, as India grappled with a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Mahan and Nishan Sekhon found themselves stretched thin. Their mother had contracted black fungus, a potentially lethal disease. The treatment, at a cost of $1,300 per day, had exhausted their insurance plan and burned through their savings. As a last resort, they turned to Ketto, a crowdfunding platform. 

They shared the campaign within their social networks in mid-June, and within a month the brothers had secured $59,000 of their $76,000 goal. “I even got a call from an [Indian man] in Belgium,” Mahan Sekhon told Rest of World. “His Spanish restaurant manager told him [about the fundraiser].”

This is how Ketto is supposed to work. In a country where out-of-pocket expenses account for nearly 63% of total health expenditures, crowdfunding fills a void in medical needs for thousands of Indians. During the Covid-19 crisis, in which more than 4 million people are estimated to have died and 10 million people have lost their jobs, Ketto saw a fourfold increase in registered fundraisers, hosting nearly 12,500 Covid-19 relief campaigns and raising $40 million, according to the company.

However, for many people in India, crowdfunding medical care is either impractical or impossible. To access the platforms, users need official documentation and formal bank accounts, which are far from universal. In 2018, the World Bank’s Identification for Development initiative estimated that 162 million Indians lack registration, including people from the trans community, homeless people, sex workers, indigenous peoples, and those from oppressed caste and class backgrounds. Even when they can get on the platforms, they are regularly targeted with hate speech and discrimination.

It means they are, effectively, cut off from services they need, or are forced to rely on the empathy of intermediaries. “People from marginalized communities in India often do not possess identity documents,” lawyer and activist Lara Jesani told Rest of World. “There are sections of people who systematically face the problem of documentation,” she said.

Ketto, an Indian online crowdfunding platform, says it has hosted over 200,000 medical fundraisers.

Ketto was founded in 2012 as an online marketplace that allows people to raise funds for everything from starting a business to helping nonprofits. The company began to focus on healthcare three years ago, Varun Sheth, the company’s co-founder, told Rest of World. “We realized that [medical fundraising] was where the platform was most effectively used,” he said. The company promotes campaigns through targeted advertising on Facebook and YouTube, helping them to reach a wide audience, including Indian citizens overseas. “We constantly got feedback that people outside India, especially, want to support more causes in India,” Sheth said.

Since its launch, Ketto said it has hosted over 200,000 medical fundraisers and raised over $148 million. The platform recently raised its largest ever medical appeal, $460,000 for Mithra, an infant with spinal muscular atrophy….(More)”.