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As India’s Covid-19 Wave Spreads Further into South Asia, Direct Relief Mounts Large-Scale Response

The organization is shipping aid to India and Bangladesh, and is reviewing additional requests for support.



Medical aid is staged on April 30, 2021, for departure to India, where Covid-19 cases have spiked during recent weeks. Direct Relief is supporting hospitals in the country with requested aid. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

India’s daily number of confirmed Covid-19 cases shot up to 400,000 over the weekend, a grim milestone in a country that has been overwhelmed by a deadly second wave of the pandemic.

While the most recent daily totals were lower – just over 370,000 – that is not yet an indication that India has reached its peak number of cases, said Andrew Schroeder, Direct Relief’s vice president of Research and Analysis. In other words, the worst may be yet to come.

The results have been devastating: overwhelmed hospitals, widespread shortages, and frantic attempts to find oxygen for those struggling with Covid-19.

A program manager at a hospital in Pune, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, described being unable to keep up with the need for ICU beds. Even if it were possible to have more, they said, there simply aren’t enough health care workers to staff the necessary beds. In spite of a large medical staff, “it’s still not adequate to handle this kind of a workload, which was never seen before.”

In addition, the hospital was confronting medication shortages.

“They situation in the entire region is very difficult. All hospitals are fully occupied and everyone is searching for more manpower,” the program manager said.

Although India experienced a severe wave of Covid-19 last year, this new one has been noteworthy for the number of younger patients falling gravely ill and requiring ventilation.

But the problem is far from confined to India. Surrounding countries are also coping with surges that, in some cases, threaten to overrun health systems that have already been battling the pandemic for months.

“This is a regional issue,” Schroeder said.

According to Schroeder, test positivity rates have continued to spike in Nepal and Pakistan as well. Nepal in particular was experiencing the most rapid rate of community transmission, with Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population warning that districts bordering India were the worst affected.

Bangladesh, already hit hard, was beginning to show some improvement, Schroeder said. The country’s case rates were still high, but were headed in the right direction.

A series of shipments are being prepared for delivery to India. Six pallets of medical support are destined for Calcutta, and 11 for Mumbai. In addition, more than 2,800 oxygen concentrators and power adaptors, and more than 1 million KN95 face masks, were being prepared for shipment to Mumbai.

A further 13 pallets containing face shields, KN95 masks, gowns, thermometers, and other medical aid were bound for Bangladesh.

In addition, Direct Relief is reviewing requests from organizations and hospitals in Pune, Raipur, Varanasi, and Delhi in India, and from organizations and hospitals in Nepal.

Since the pandemic began last year, Direct Relief has provided India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan with $43.9 million in medical aid, along with $4.1 million in grants.

The organization will continue to consult with partners in the affected countries to determine needs and allocate support accordingly.

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