Updated: May 5
India's fresh COVID crisis has gripped headlines and should arrest any complacency that this pandemic is nearly over. India's neighbours, including Nepal, are now bracing as this fresh wave crosses their borders. While the virus continues to mutate and spread at this rate anywhere in the world, we have a long way to go to end this global pandemic.
India's Crippled Hospitals and Lockdown Hunger
Delhi's hospitals are struggling to maintain their oxygen supplies, relying on daily deliveries to sustain their critical services. These large, predominantly private, hospitals have seen their supplies run out altogether. Twelve patients, including one doctor, reportedly died on Saturday during one such outage.
Healthcare services that serve India's most impoverished and the situation outside of the largest cities rarely make the headlines. Duncan Hospital, EMMS International's partner in rural Bihar state, is once again feeling the impact of the virus. Dr Prabhu, the hospital's Medical Director, wrote last week:
"We are again flooded with COVID, and over 40 staff, including myself, are positive. The first three days are quite uncomfortable, but we are all recovering, and some are back to work. I'm sure you are watching the news on TV to get an idea of what's happening in India. This time around, we were not locked down, and the virus had spread extensively. Our routine work continues, and we are pulling along for now."
The pandemic is once again a crisis on top of the ongoing critical needs of the local community. Today, Bihar state has announced that it will go into lockdown to stop the virus' spread. Lockdown will, however, put countless households at risk of hunger, particularly day labourers.
As yet, there is no national lockdown. However, migrant workers are already fleeing the cities to escape the virus and economic isolation. As they return to their home communities, and with limited testing available, the virus may well move with them.
A crisis across India and Nepal borders
Nepal's border with India is long and porous, with many people crossing the border searching for work. "The situation in India is a big concern, and we too are experiencing a second wave of COVID," wrote Dr Ruth Russel from Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. Nepal's cities have entered into strict lockdown once again.
Two weeks ago, the country's Epidemiology and Disease Control Department confirmed the presence of the variant first identified in the UK and India's double-mutated variant.
Nepal is now also declaring a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators. The recently completed Palliative Care Centre for Excellence at Green Pastures Hospital will once again become an essential part of the coronavirus response. While, at the same time, the palliative care team will do all they can to support the needs of their existing patients and their families.
The sentiment that it's 'not just India' is growing in the region as neighbouring Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have sounded the alarm in recent weeks.
India's Fragile Vaccination Hopes
Just over six months ago, Prime Minister Modi declared that "India's vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis." This included sharing vaccine with neighbouring Nepal and distant Malawi.
However, with a local crisis on their hands, their vaccination priorities have shifted closer to home. Availability and proximity to vaccines are no silver bullet. They must be deployed strategically, effectively and equitably. The equitable global distribution must also prioritise containing the virus where it poses the most significant risk, and in doing so, protect all countries.
Only 9.3% of Indians have received a vaccination, and that number drops to 7.3% when you cross the border into Nepal (52% in the UK, where 23% are fully vaccinated). There will be an impact on global vaccine supplies due to this wave; the Serum Institute of India is one of the largest vaccine producers for the COVAX programme.
Dare to hope
In the face of the present situation, our partners remain resolute in their commitment to serving their local communities and caring for those with COVID-19 and those living through their own healthcare crises. Our "Dare to hope Share the hope" appeal is your opportunity to show your solidarity with healthcare workers in the peaks of the pandemic and to provide care for all those who need it.
We might dare to hope with lockdown easing and widespread vaccination in the UK. But we must continue to share that hope because India's COVID crisis is the world's COVID crisis.