Over the past few weeks, cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed in India as part of a new second wave of the virus to hit the country. As of April 30, there were over 400,000 cases. There were less than 120,000 cases in early April. India accounts for a third of all global COVID-19 cases, and the public health crisis has drawn international attention.
Hospitals have been overflowing with sick patients. A lack of critical supplies, such as oxygen, has made the situation even more dire. Some patients have been asking around on social media for basic medical supplies. Haunting images of overflowing crematoriums have flooded social media and news networks in recent weeks, as India has surpassed 48,000 deaths in the month of April. Many experts believe the true number of deaths may even be more staggering due to an underreporting of cases and deaths.
India’s vaccination efforts began in January, but as of April 30 only about 10% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Only around 2% are fully vaccinated. By May, anyone 18 and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine. However, vaccine supplies are running low, and efforts are being made to vaccinate as many as possible, a strategy seen as the best way to slow the spread and eventually eliminate COVID-19.
As a result of this public health crisis, many in India have been critical of the government’s ineffective response. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been largely accused of doing little to help the situation, and only in the past week has he made any comments addressing the critical state of India’s COVID-19 crisis. Modi only recently arranged for more oxygen to be distributed, and he has been accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings from many experts about this second wave. Instead, Modi has been boasting about India’s success and holding major political rallies that many have feared became super-spreader events due to the lack of masks and social distancing. In an address to the nation, Modi said, “The country is again fighting a very big battle against COVID-19. A few weeks ago, the conditions had stabilized and then came the second wave.”
International aid has also sent in crucial supplies in recent days, including ventilators, oxygen and other medical supplies. Some medical aid from the United States left for India on April 28, and according to the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. plans to send about $100 million worth of aid to India. Additionally, the U.S. plans to send supplies for an additional 20 million doses of the COVID vaccine. Countries such as those in the U.K. and E.U. have also vowed to send excess supplies and medical equipment.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has announced that all flights from India will be stopped by May 4. The U.K., Canada and numerous other countries have also issued similar travel bans.
The Biden administration has been trying to balance assisting other countries while also helping the U.S. get out of the pandemic. The administration remains committed to supporting allies in a time of crisis and utilizing the U.S.’s role on a global stage as a force for good. President Biden continued with this sentiment, saying in a tweet, “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.”
The United States has also been committed to distributing COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, with the U.S. donating $4 billion to COVAX, the international effort helping poorer countries vaccinate citizens. This effort of vaccine diplomacy is crucial to ensuring that the virus doesn’t mutate further to exacerbate the effects of the pandemic. However, many are saying wealthy countries like the U.S. should contribute more and hoard less vaccines due to the growing inequity of vaccine distribution.
According to the World Health Organization, of the one billion shots administered, 82% have gone to high-income countries while 0.3% have gone to low-income countries. It is estimated that although wealthier countries may be on track to herd immunity, poorer countries may not see herd immunity until 2023. One possibility for better vaccine distribution is to lift patent protections pharmaceutical companies currently have on COVID-19 vaccines, making them more widely accessible. The Biden administration said they are discussing the possibility of the measure, and the possibility was again brought up in a phone call between Biden and Modi.
Although the international aid has been encouraging, some have questioned whether wealthy nations like the U.S. have helped enough. Many private donors have stepped into help, including millions of Americans with relatives in India. Additionally, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has announced that Google will donate $18 million worth of aid to help India, as well as $15 million worth of free ad space for public health information to be shared.
An additional crucial reason to send help to India is to prevent the virus from spreading and possibly mutating into a vaccine-resistant or more deadly strain. According to the Washington Post, Ashish Jha of the Brown University School of Public Health said, “Because India is so global, any strain of virus that gains … advantages — more contagious, more deadly or able to spread more efficiently — will not only become dominant there, but quickly become global.” A more deadly or contagious strain that appears in India could have catastrophic ramifications across the globe unless the current COVID-19 situation is not managed quickly and effectively.
For Hope students, there are many ways to get involved to help India during this health crisis. Spreading awareness and information on social media can be helpful, and there are many great organizations for which to spread awareness or donate. UNICEF and the Indian Red Cross are reliable organizations that have been working throughout the pandemic to support supply distribution, vaccine rollout, test kits and more. Organizations such as Care India and The International Medical Corps are providing crucial aid in India as well.