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India’s deadly Covid-19 crisis has presented a host of new challenges. While the basic needs for oxygen, medicines, and PPE have remained the same, the logistics have changed. Now, these needs extend to more remote and isolated rural areas. Humanitarian donations had to be distributed outward from the main cities and via existing local networks to ensure aid was getting to the places it needed to go.
Although India has reported more than 400,000 deaths and more than 30 million cases, the real numbers are likely higher – with estimates well over a million deaths and over 500 million infections. Cases ballooned across the major urban areas, spread outwards from the north to the south and east of India and from urban centers to rural communities.
Hospitals ran out of bed spaces, particularly in urban communities in the north of India. Intensive care units were filled and had to turn away severely ill patients. Critically needed oxygen supplies were either entirely or intermittently unavailable in many facilities. Covid-19 medications and personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent frontline health workers were in short supply. Families were going door-to-door to hospitals, trying to find a bed for their loved ones.
It wasn’t India’s first brush with Covid-19. However, India’s first wave of the virus was largely controlled, peaking in mid-September of 2020. Successful response measures by the Indian government led to a gradual decline in case numbers. But then, in mid-February 2021, a second wave began, and case numbers started to track upwards quickly.
As case numbers exploded in April, Direct Relief scaled its response to the crisis.
Response and Impact
With the help of donors and working closely with pharmaceutical manufacturing and logistics companies, Direct Relief sent large volumes of urgently needed oxygen concentrators, Covid-19 medications, and PPE to healthcare organizations across India. Direct Relief also provided grant funding to support the rapid response of Indian groups sourcing and delivering oxygen devices.
Since April 2021, Direct Relief delivered $437 million worth of aid to India – more than 24 million defined daily doses of medicine and a total of 700 tons worth of medical materials. Direct Relief has delivered this support to hospitals, local health departments, state ministries of health across India, and other health care organizations.
Direct Relief transported the 700 tons with the support of FedEx, which provided three full 777 aircraft to deliver the bulk of the supplies. Direct Relief also mobilized multiple commercial deliveries of oxygen, medicines, PPE, and other medical aid to India.
Throughout the peak of the crisis, the item requested most often has been oxygen. Since April, Direct Relief has delivered 6,668 oxygen concentration units and contributed grant funds as part of a coalition of organizations supporting the “Oxygen Bridge to India.” Altogether, the coalition procured and delivered 20,000 oxygen concentrators. Direct Relief also funded the construction of a permanent oxygen generation plant to provide ongoing medical-grade oxygen to its long-term partner Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune.
Hospitals working in hotspots across India also requested Covid-19 and ancillary medications and supplies, including antibiotics, vasopressors, sedatives, immune suppressants, and albuterol inhalers. With the support of donors and pharmaceutical manufacturers, Direct Relief was able to deliver these potentially lifesaving drugs to hospitals treating severe cases of Covid-19.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Worldwide, health workers have been at the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis. They are at the highest risk of infection and potentially high viral load infections. PPE is the primary way to protect them as they continue providing lifesaving care without becoming patients themselves. Since April, Direct Relief has delivered more than 7 million units of PPE to India. These included masks, gowns, gloves, goggles, and face shields. The most needed and requested PPE item remains masks, and Direct Relief has supplied nearly 6 million units.
Looking to the Future
Direct Relief continues to work with health care organizations across India to identify and match needs with donations of medicines and supplies. These organizations are still treating Covid-19 patients, even as they attempt to recover from this crisis and prepare for a possible third wave.
In addition to this ongoing medical support, Direct Relief provides grant funds to support the recovery process and bolster health care facilities as they continue to offer primary and specialist health services to communities hit hard by Covid-19. Given the critical need and shortage of oxygen during the crisis, grant funds are helping ensure sustainable oxygen supplies – even if local case numbers rise and put pressure back on their health facilities.
The best way to fight Covid-19 is to vaccinate populations against it. Direct Relief will direct additional grant funding towards vaccination campaigns – including the logistics, materials, and staffing that go along with getting people vaccinated.
In addition, the organization will continue to support vulnerable populations and the health care services they require, including maternal and child health care, pediatric services, and care for chronic illnesses such as hemophilia. These vulnerable populations aren’t just directly at risk from Covid-19. They’re also vulnerable to long-term lockdowns, shortage of food and other supplies, and interrupted access to health care and medication.
To date, Direct Relief has supported locally-run organizations with more than $3.1 million in cash grants, allowing them to respond to and recover from the crisis – and maintain normal health care activities aimed at vulnerable populations. Grantees include ACT GRANTS India, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) India, Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital, and the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences.
These grants helped deliver thousands of oxygen concentrators, fund village-level Covid-19 clinics, distribute masks, and much more.