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India’s second-wave COVID crisis peaked in the first week of May 2021. At that time, the official daily COVID case infection rate was above 400,000, and the daily mortality rate was above 4,000.
On the ground, particularly within urban communities in northern India, this meant hospitals had run out of bed spaces, ICUs were full and unable to admit severely ill patients, and critically needed oxygen supplies were either unavailable or in intermittent supply across many facilities.
COVID medications and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect frontline health workers were in short supply, and families were forced to go door-to-door to hospitals, trying to find a bed for sick loved ones.
As India continues to recover from COVID, health challenges remain around health system strengthening, improving infectious disease diagnostic and treatment capacity and access, vaccinations, delivering health services to remote communities, targeting support for vulnerable communities, and strengthening data-driven decision-making capacity.
Response and Impact
As the case numbers ballooned in India in April 2021, Direct Relief, enabled by donors, pharmaceutical contributors and logistics partners, rapidly mobilized more than 750 tons of medical materials. These urgently needed resources included oxygen concentration devices, COVID medications, PPE, and grant funding to support the rapid response of health organizations sourcing oxygen devices within India.
Enabling Direct Relief to deliver emergency medical materials to India, FedEx supplied two full 777 aircraft to provide the bulk of the supplies. In addition, Direct Relief chartered another 777 plane and multiple commercial deliveries to move oxygen, medicines, PPE and other medical materials to India.
Essential medical resources for patient care
Oxygen: The most requested item during the peak of India’s crisis was oxygen. In response, Direct Relief delivered more than 6,660 oxygen concentration units. It contributed grant funds through a coalition of organizations to support the ‘Oxygen Bridge to India’ procuring and delivering 20,000 oxygen concentrators while also funding the construction of a permanent oxygen generation plant to provide ongoing medical-grade oxygen to Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune.
Covid ICU Support & Medications: Covid medications and ancillary drugs such as antibiotics, vasopressors, sedatives, immune suppressants, and albuterol inhalers were also urgently requested by hospitals working in the significant COVID hotspots across India. Direct Relief has delivered these potentially lifesaving drugs to support partner hospitals treating the most severe ICU COVID cases.
Personal Protective Equipment: Health workers are at the frontline of the COVID crisis. They are at the most risk of infection and potentially high viral load infections. PPE is the primary way to protect health workers and enable them to continue providing lifesaving care without becoming patients themselves. Direct Relief has delivered more than 7.6 million items of PPE, including masks, gowns, gloves, goggles, and face shields, to India.
Funding for health organizations responding locally: As in emergencies, the pre-existing gaps get more prominent as resources are redirected to the crisis. That’s why Direct Relief’s focus since the onset of Covid-19 has been supporting its partner network of safety-net health facilities that care for people who are among the least fortunate and most vulnerable to crises. In addition to committing $5 million in support for the crisis, Direct Relief is also acting as a fiscal agent for donations made by ACT Grants, ensuring that 100 percent of donations made for Covid response honor donor intent and designation. To date, Direct Relief has identified, vetted, and supported the following locally-run organizations with cash grants to enable them to respond to and recover from the COVID crisis and maintain routine health care services to vulnerable populations.
ACT GRANTS India
To support the Oxygen Air Bridge to India campaign and the delivery of thousands of urgently needed oxygen concentrators.
To support village-level COVID clinics, COVID health education, mask distribution, support and education for women at the village level, and building a team of health trainers across India to improve access to COVID and general health awareness and information. Also, to target NCD care and livelihood rehabilitation in response to COVID and COVID isolation impacts. Focusing mainly on low-income, independently-employed female workers.
Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital Pune
Funding to construct a new oxygen generation facility to provide ongoing supplies of medical grade oxygen to the hospital, maintain COVID operations during the crisis, and establish a ‘Centre of Excellence in Infectious Disease and Tropical Medicine’ to provide state-of-the-art diagnostic and laboratory testing to communities and to ensure efficient and appropriate treatment. It will also be a center for training and education and give DMH the capacity to track COVID variants and other infectious disease strains.
Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences Kerala
Emergency COVID funding to maintain operations during the crisis and enable the purchase, equipping, and operation of a mobile medical and telemedicine unit to serve remote indigent communities in Kerala and respond to disasters across multiple Indian states.
Shrimad Rajchandra Love & Care (SRLC) Gujarat
Funding to procure ventilators, a CT-Scan machine and other medical equipment to enable the hospital’s COVID response and facility- strengthening. Also includes funding medical outreach missions into remote rural areas to run COVID testing, vaccinations, primary healthcare, and education.
Data and analysis to inform policies: To inform its efforts and those of other response agencies, Direct Relief is providing research and information products to nonprofits, government agencies, and emergency response groups for targeted and efficient emergency response.