The scenes we have seen unfolding across India in recent weeks are nothing short of devastating. On Saturday, India broke a record that no country would ever want during a global pandemic, when it reported over 400,000 new cases in a 24 hour period. This followed ten days of India reporting over 300,000 cases each day.
Relatively low testing for the virus in India means the true number is likely higher. While the government maintains that infection rates are coming down, it is predicted that the country’s second wave is unlikely to see cases peak until sometime in June.
Christian Aid has been hearing about the devastating impacts of India’s second wave of coronavirus from a local partner based in northern India.
“Patients are unable to find beds because the public hospitals are not admitting people because they don’t have enough beds, enough medicines, enough ventilators or enough oxygen cylinders,” our partner said.
India, the world’s second most populated country, has four times fewer doctors per person than Ireland. The surge in cases has brought the country’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with hospitals overrun and shortages of vital medical equipment.
“If any coronavirus patient is admitted to a private hospital, they are charging anywhere up to 60,000 rupees (670 euro) per person per day for an ICU bed.”
In particular, the shortage of oxygen supplies across the country has compounded the crisis, leading India’s central government to introduce and recently increase ‘oxygen quotas’ in an attempt to deal with the spike in demand for oxygen across the country.
As our partner explains, the shortage has left some people unable to get the treatment they desperately need while forcing others to try to source their own, with some hospitals charging patients heavily for what supplies they have left.
“Some private hospitals are charging anything between 500-1,000 rupees (between 5.50-11 euro) for just one hour of oxygen,” they added.
Our local partner provides support to women who have survived sexual, domestic, and caste-based violence and helps them to get justice for these crimes. They also work with these survivors to give them the support and confidence to become human rights defenders and to campaign for their own rights and the rights of other victims of such violence.
Our partner works with particularly vulnerable and marginalised communities including Muslims, Dalits and slum dwellers. As they explain, the second wave of coronavirus has had huge impacts on the people they support.
“The situation for marginalised people, especially women, is very bad right now. If somebody in the family gets infected, the women of the house must take care of them. They don’t have any kit or means to protect themselves, but they have to do it,” they said.
“The situation of patients without coronavirus is also very bad. The situation has caused an increase in domestic violence. Men can’t go out and work, they are taking out their frustrations on women. If someone has suffered from rape or domestic violence, these people are not even getting admitted,” they added.
Our partner is embedded within the communities in which they have been helping people during the deadly second wave of coronavirus pandemic in India by alerting the authorities about people in need of assistance as well as helping families know who to contact so they can arrange transport for sick relatives to get to hospital, where they can go to get a refill of an oxygen tank or even arrange transport to cremation grounds for relatives who have sadly died.
Despite their best efforts, they recognise that due to the scale of the crisis, this is not enough.
“We are making people aware about how they can protect themselves from getting infected and how they can be helped. Early on, we thought we were managing the situation. We were helping people get from home to hospital and getting them the help they need. But now, it is very difficult,” they said.
“The situation is so bad that 1 out of every 5 are actually getting help. We are trying to get our hands on some ambulances so that we can transfer patients from home to the medical facilities, but we are unable to find any. Even for transportation of dead bodies, vehicles are not available. We are ready to pay but it is very difficult to get services or you have to pay exorbitant prices to hire private vehicles.”
As the partner explains, the lack of vehicles available to transport those who have died from the virus at home to cremation grounds is leaving families in particularly distressing circumstances.
“When people die from coronavirus at home, sometimes the bodies are lying there for five hours, ten hours and sometimes even up to two days because there is nobody to take the body away. In the cremation grounds, there is such a long queue of dead bodies, some will arrive today but won’t be cremated until the day after.”
The partner themselves have been badly affected throughout the pandemic. The people they support, their own staff and their families have all been infected, and tragically, one of the partner’s psychiatrists died recently. But despite the scale of the crisis and suffering before them, they are determined to keep supporting those who come to them for help, and they have cause for hope.
“For me and the people in my organisation, this is not a job, it is passion, for us this is life,” they said.
“Some gurdwaras (Sikh temples) have been converted into temporary hospitals and beds laid out there where patients can go. We see a ray of hope here if we can convert schools, colleges, and such buildings into hospitals for covid patients. If everyone, takes it up with all their heart, then we can think of overcoming this.”
To find out more about how Christian Aid has been responding to coronavirus in India and how you can help, visit caid.ie/India.