By Estelle Anderson
New York City, New York
In India, the skies are thick with crematory smoke. Hospitals, having run out of available beds and oxygen tanks, are overflowing with COVID-19 patients and must turn away new ones at the door. At mass cremation grounds set up around the country, funeral pyres are glowing day and night as staff continually shuttle in the bodies of COVID-19 victims.
During India’s second wave of COVID-19, India is experiencing almost 400,000 new infections each day, a number that many experts say is likely an undercount. In India, there have been over 22 million COVID-19 cases throughout the country, with over 246,000 deaths. Despite being the world’s biggest producer of COVID-19 vaccines, about 3% of the Indian population is fully vaccinated, compared to over 34% of people in the United States; less than 10% of the Indian population has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The virus’ rapid spread can be partially explained by India’s massive population of almost 1.4 billion people. Several months ago, however, while the pandemic crushed the United States, India had already achieved relative success at slowing its spread. When the pandemic first hit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a swift response, ordering the country into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and advocating for mask-wearing and social distancing. By February, India’s leadership was confident enough to declare that India had “defeated Covid under the able, sensitive, committed, and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.” Ramanan Laxminarayan, a Princeton University epidemiologist based in New Delhi, India, suggested in March that nations including India “had already gone through the bulk of the epidemic,” given that many people in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi had already been infected, as demonstrated by antibody data.
Many blame Modi for the virus’ spread: hoping to reduce the economic devastation caused by India’s lockdown, he eased many COVID-19 restrictions, started to appear at campaign events without a mask and allowed a shortened version of a major Hindu festival, Kumbh Mela, to occur. Between January and April, India’s governmental COVID-19 task force did not meet at all, after previously meeting at least twice a month.
The devastation caused by India’s outbreak has its long-term roots in the country’s severe underinvestment in healthcare infrastructure. In 2018, India’s spending on healthcare was only 1.28% of its Gross Domestic Product; this figure was 18% in the United States. According to data published by the Indian government in 2019-20, there is only one doctor per 1,456 people in India. As a result, the virus has battered the country’s healthcare system, leaving many patients gasping for air at hospitals that lack oxygen supplies. Recently, the courts had to step in: after Sitaram Bhartia Hospital had only 30 minutes of oxygen left for 42 patients, hospital authorities approached the New Delhi High Court as a last resort, which ruled that it would start punishing government officials for failing to send oxygen to hospitals in need.
Currently, the main way to help India through this public health crisis is by making monetary donations if you are able and willing. Below, The Iris has listed five organizations working throughout India to deliver oxygen supplies to hospitals, donate PPE equipment, support local medical networks and more.
Oxygen for India, an initiative led by the British Asian Trust, is delivering oxygen concentrators to hospitals in seven Indian cities. $50 will provide oxygen to 40 patients struggling to breathe. Donate here.
Go Fund Me has compiled a list of current campaigns working to fight the virus in India, most of which are focused on providing oxygen supplies to hospitals. Donate here.
KhalsaAid is a Sikh humanitarian organization supporting medical networks in vulnerable communities across India. Donate here.
Care India has supplied hospitals in India with over 39,000 Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, as well as masks. Donate here.
Children’s Hope India is distributing PPE supplies to frontline workers, assisting with communities’ vaccination efforts, supplying medical oxygen, and more. Donate here.