ay 2021 has brought no relief to India, where surging cases of COVID-19 continue to dismantle the health-care system. Since the start of May, nearly 400,000 people are getting sick with the virus every single day. Experts fear the devastating caseload is still nowhere near its peak.
Weston Davis, the country director for ADRA in India, described the harrowing situation in a recent Facebook Live interview.
“Many, many people know someone who has perished,” he said, reflecting on the common belief that the official COVID-19 death toll in India falls far short of the reality. “Some experts say, ‘Whatever number you hear, multiply that times ten, and you’ll be getting close.’”
As of May 25, the Ministry of Health and Welfare in India reported that more than 307,000 people have died of COVID-19. Experts insist the number is much higher.
“Our health-care system was not ready to cope with such a large caseload,” Trisha Mahajan, communications manager for ADRA in India, said. “The cases had subsided a lot in February, and people had thought that COVID in India was almost over. This second wave took people by surprise.”
Mahajan described the fear and chaos in India right now. “People are dying from preventable deaths because they are not getting oxygen on time, or not getting hospital beds on time, or not getting basic medicines on time,” she said. “My social media [outlets] are filled with people asking for leads on hospital beds or oxygen cylinders. People are just losing their lives outside of hospitals. Even crematoriums are cramped. There is no space. They are being turned into places to burn the dead — even in the parking lots of these crematoriums, fires are being burned.”
“It is very tragic what is happening,” she added. “We are all very scared at the moment.”
Though several frontline staff have gotten sick with — and recovered from — COVID-19, the ADRA team in India remains safe, even as they continue their tireless fight against COVID-19. Recently, ADRA’s COVID-19 Task Force committed to supporting vaccine clinics in hard-hit Delhi and sending personal protective equipment (PPE) to Pune Adventist Hospital and Bangalore Adventist Hospital while ramping up support in nine other Adventist hospitals in hard-hit areas in India. It also committed to providing a much-needed oxygen generation plant to METAS Adventist Hospital, the largest Adventist hospital in India, located in Surat.
Access to Oxygen
The greatest need in India remains access to oxygen. The COVID-19 virus targets the respiratory system, and for those in critical condition, access to oxygen is essential. Unfortunately, in India, that access remains limited.
“When someone is under respiratory distress, they are given oxygen,” Davis said. “Early on in the crisis, health-care facilities [in India] began to run out of oxygen.”
While the oxygen crisis is immense in scope, it is also intimate and deeply personal. Davis shared an anecdote of a friend in Delhi who scoured the city looking for oxygen cylinders to give to a family with two members in critical condition. After hours of desperate searching, the friend found only one cylinder.
“The family had to make a decision: Which person receives the oxygen?” Davis said. “They made the decision, and the other person passed away.”
Right now, in India, this scenario is tragic but not uncommon. Thousands are dying every day for lack of oxygen.
To combat that stark reality, ADRA is in the process of airlifting an oxygen generation plant from Italy to the largest Adventist hospital in India. This 300-bed facility has been converted into a COVID-19 hospital.
Located in the hard-hit state of Gujarat in western India, METAS Adventist Hospital has already treated 10,000 cases of COVID-19, a feat that has required access to countless numbers of oxygen cylinders. These cylinders are in short supply due to a supply chain that the crisis has fragmented, and doctors are faced with the heartbreaking choice of who to save.
“I was talking to a health-care professional in the U.S. a couple of days ago about the oxygen shortage,” Davis said. “He said, ‘All we do here is go over to the wall and plug it in. We never think about a shortage. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to be making those decisions about who gets oxygen.’”
By providing an oxygen generation plant to the largest Adventist hospital in India, ADRA is working to ensure that all patients who need lifesaving access to oxygen will get it. Rather than being forced to rely on expensive, small-capacity, and increasingly inaccessible oxygen cylinders, METAS Adventist Hospital in Surat will be able to produce its own medical-grade oxygen on location and save thousands of lives in the coming weeks and months.
“The support we’re receiving from ADRA and the people who believe in ADRA is humbling, and we’re eternally grateful for that, but it is only as good as our ability to distribute it,” Davis said. “No one wants to see aid stuck in bottlenecks. We have the tremendous opportunity to coordinate with an entire hospital system throughout India that already exists. By coordinating with those teams, we can identify the best place for our relief to go and already have a built-in network. We know that as soon as it arrives at these hospitals, it will be immediately utilized.”
This partnership with the Adventist hospitals in India is strong and allows ADRA to deliver lifesaving resources that will immediately benefit thousands of the most vulnerable. While the partnership between ADRA and the network of Adventist hospitals is strong, the needs remain immense.
“India needs all the support it can get,” Mahajan said. “We are very, very thankful for everyone who is praying for us, who is supporting us.”
Davis agrees. “We are eternally grateful for the donations, small or large. It all works together.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in India site.