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COVID-19: The fight for India’s poorest

India has a population of 1.3billion. A widespread breakout of coronavirus could affect huge numbers of people. As the fifth largest economy in the world, one might assume there are sufficient resources to tackle this health crisis. However, as we see here in the UK, a developed economy is no guarantee of protection for the poorest and most vulnerable.

A huge population means a health crisis on a potentially huge scale. Beds in government hospitals are in short supply, and India’s bureaucratic health system will be severely tested in responding to this crisis. A worst-case scenario for India suggests up to 220,000 people needing access to ventilators, but government hospitals only have an estimated 57,000.

However, access to essential facilities like ventilators is not guaranteed by what is available nationally, but what is available locally. In Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, healthcare inequality is a significant concern. The state is home to 7.3% of India’s population but less than 0.3% of the country’s ventilators. This figure is far worse when you consider that the majority of ventilators are in private hospitals who have backed away from treating COVID-19 patients because of the risks involved.

EMMS International is supporting its long-term partner Duncan Hospital, in Raxaul, Bihar, in their fight against coronavirus. The hospital serves all those who need medical help, including the very poor and yet the hospital may get little support from the Indian government for essential equipment.

Bihar state has registered 96 cases of coronavirus, including two deaths. If the spread escalates local healthcare resources would be woefully insufficient, with only 50 ventilators in government hospitals and 50 to 100 in private hospitals but with almost all private hospitals refusing to treat COVID-19. Bihar’s healthcare resources are insufficient to address existing health challenges let alone this global pandemic. For example, the state’s success in the treatment of tuberculosis, another infectious respiratory disease, dropped from 89.7% to 71.9% between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

A battle on the border

Duncan Hospital sits close to the border of Nepal and treats all who are able to reach the hospital, regardless of nationality or citizenship. India’s national lockdown demonstrated the unequal impact that preventative measures have on poor and vulnerable communities. International headlines were filled with the plight of migrant workers who were locked out of work and far from home.

Being a border state and one of the poorest Indian states, the impacts of lockdown are disproportionate in Bihar. As one of the poorest states, many people from Bihar travel throughout India to find work and send money home to their families. As a border state, lockdowns affect those travelling to and from Nepal – whose poorer communities also rely heavily upon migrant work.

EMMS International Partner Response

Duncan Hospital has set up separate facilities for in- and out-patients with respiratory symptoms and is preparing to set-up an isolation ward. As a hospital serving poorer, vulnerable communities it is doing all it can to prepare for coronavirus while still caring for and protecting its existing patients. This includes implementing social distancing measures within the hospital.

Duncan Hospital has asked for support in purchasing protective equipment, ventilators and other essential supplies. Your support of our emergency appeal will help provide these vital tools for Duncan Hospital in its fight against coronavirus.

Prayer Points

Please pray for:

  • The government of India, that it would do all in its power to protect citizens throughout the country;

  • Vulnerable communities in India, particularly migrant workers travelling from and through Bihar. Pray that they would receive the protections they deserve both from coronavirus and the impact of the virus prevention measures;

  • Duncan Hospital and other frontline services, that they would have the resources they need to help stop the spread and reduce the impact of the virus;

  • India’s poorest communities, that they would continue to get the help they need in their ongoing fight against poverty.


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