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The World’s Worst Coronavirus Outbreak in India

“If you have your own cylinder, come pick up the oxygen. If you don’t, we can’t help you.”

What is happening in India?

Months ago, India’s COVID-19 cases were controlled, resulting in loosened COVID-19 restrictions. The large gatherings that ensued afterwards became the perfect breeding ground for the virus. The country saw an exponential rise in cases and deaths beginning this April, which is now referred to as the “second wave.” Currently, India is experiencing the world’s worst outbreak with millions of people infected. By mid-May, roughly 23 million people were infected and 250,000 people died. This site consists of COVID-19 statistics provided by the Government of India for those interested in tracking the total cases; this is a useful tool in understanding the true gravity of the crisis as it continues to grow. (Additional information from this site includes total vaccination doses, COVID-19 testing, deaths, etc)

A new variant of the virus, B.1.617, was identified in India and some people blame it for causing the deadly second wave. This variant has spread globally and is considered a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. This classification means that the virus may have increased transmissibility, created more severe disease, and is essentially more difficult to control. There is limited research on this variant so it can not be blamed for the second wave — other factors, such as mass gatherings and low vaccination rates, can also contribute to the rise in cases. Although India is one of the world’s leading vaccine-producing countries, it failed to effectively vaccinate its citizens. India is the second most populated country in the world with a current population of roughly 1.4 billion people, but only less than 10% of Indians have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This exponential surge of coronavirus infections is overwhelming India’s healthcare system, resulting in oxygen shortages. COVID-19 can lead to hypoxemia, which means low blood oxygen levels. Patients require supplemental oxygen to survive with this condition. According to press reports, 24 people died in one hospital overnight in the state of Karnataka due to lack of oxygen. A similar pattern is seen in many other hospitals around the nation. More than 9000 tons of medical oxygen will be produced by mid-May, but the country lacks transport (e.g. long transport times) and storage capacity (e.g. lack of cryogenic tankers) so critical patients will continue to suffer unless changes are made. The demand for medical oxygen is so high that Shahid Malik, an oxygen supply worker, replied to every call with this message: “If you have your own cylinder, come pick up the oxygen. If you don’t, we can’t help you.” In addition to oxygen shortages, hospitals are running out of beds. For example, Seema Gandotra, a 51-year-old woman with coronavirus, tried six hospitals in New Delhi but she died upon being admitted. Another woman, Kamla Devi, 71 years old with diabetes, died when hospitals failed to accommodate her after her blood sugar levels plummeted. The hospitals are running out of space for patients, the dead are overwhelming crematoriums, and bodies are piling up everywhere. And the situation is only getting worse.

How can we help?

Donating to certain organizations can help healthcare workers and affected families. To look more closely into organizations involved in providing assistance to India, click here.

Some international organizations include:

  • United Nations agencies (e.g. UNICEF and World Health Organization) - mission is to deliver personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrators, and more to India’s healthcare workers

  • PATH - mission is to acquire oxygen supplies and accelerate COVID-19 testing in India

  • The International Medical Corps - mission is to provide medical equipment and personal protective equipment to India’s healthcare workers

Some organizations in India include the following:

  • Indian Red Cross Society - mission is to run blood drives and deliver medical supplies across India

  • Youth Feed India and Helping Hands Charitable Trust - mission is to deliver food to vulnerable residents in Mumbai

  • OxygenForIndia - mission is to deliver free medical oxygen to patients in seven Indian cities

  • Khalsa Aid - mission is to provide vital medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, tanks and more

Works Cited:


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