India

Foreign aid arrives in India, but when will it reach rural areas?

Family members watch after performing the last rites of a person who died from Covid-19 at a crematorium in Jammu, India, 26 April 2021.
Family members watch after performing the last rites of a person who died from Covid-19 at a crematorium in Jammu, India, 26 April 2021. AP - Channi Anand

Ventilators, oxygen equipment, pharmaceuticals and PPE shipments have begun to arrive in India as part of a global effort to help contain a devastating surge of Covid-19. But experts have warned the full extent of the crisis is far worse than reported, and say distributing aid to stricken rural areas will be a further challenge. 

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India's hospitals have been overwhelmed by the second wave of coronavirus, with daily infections surpassing 300,000 for over a week and 2,000 deaths registered per day. 

The total number of cases has soared to 17.6 million cases, with India now accounting for well over a third of all confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world. 

Experts fear that the staggering figures fail to capture the true magnitude of the crisis, especially in rural areas where testing is limited.

Aid to rural areas

“Because death registration is poor in India, the government will have little data to respond to the impact of Covid-19 on large sections of the population who live in the rural areas,” Jacob John, a renowned virologist told RFI.

The spiralling cases have put tremendous pressure on the country’s overstretched health infrastructure which continues to face chronic shortage of oxygen, medicines and beds in their intensive care wards.

“It is good to know that at least these supplies have started trickling in from abroad. But the real issue will be to see that cities suffering serious shortages get their right allocations,” Dr Ajay Khanna, a physician told RFI.

“The upsetting scenes of patients dying in ambulances and bodies burning on pyres outside crematoriums in many towns shows how grave the situation is and the surge is nowhere near ending,” Pranav Kishore, a public health expert told RFI.

Vaccine stocks

According to experts, the only hope for smothering the current wave is to ramp up the vaccination drive. The country is administering about 3 million doses a day which has been sluggish by many estimates.

So far, India has vaccinated 8 percent of its 1.3 billion plus population with one dose and 1 percent with two.

On 1 May, vaccinations are scheduled to be opened up to everyone above 18 years and several states have complained they do not have enough stock.

Foreign aid

Crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK arrived at an airport New Delhi on Tuesday. A day earlier, an Indian Air Force aircraft transported six cryogenic oxygen containers from Dubai.

France has begun sending oxygen generators destined to become long-term fixtures of hospitals in India.

A consignment of containers for the transportation of medical oxygen has arrived from Thailand while some more empty tankers will be airlifted from Singapore.

The US is also sending raw material for Covishield - the AstraZeneca vaccine being made in India - that had been hitherto banned by the US Trade authorities. 

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