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I am a fairly avid reader of current world affairs and most anything news worthy. It was sometime in January of 2020 that my wife and I had friends from the USA visiting us in New Delhi. I casually asked our group of friends if they had heard about this “Corona” thing that was impacting China? Everyone in the group kind of shrugged and said that they may have heard about it but did know too much.
Who could have known a year and a half later the entire planet had been impacted by the pandemic of COVID-19 in ways not thought possible in our modern times? Many of us have experienced the virus on several levels. Some have been mildly infected and have moved on. Many have friends or family members that have paid the ultimate price. Some have lost their livelihoods and normal daily living and wonder if life will ever return to what it was. Regardless how this pandemic has impacted you, there are lessons that have been learned. Many people have responded and served well.
It is well known that during the first wave of COVID-19, India was remarkably spared the worst of the pain and impact. There was sickness and death in India but relative to the population and potential risks, India escaped much of what was impacting other developing and developed countries.
However, there was another kind of challenge that was brought about the three-month-long lockdown imposed by the national government to help curb the spread of the virus. Loss of livelihood impacted millions, especially the daily wage laborers who were already living hand to mouth. Closure of schools was another major challenge. The results of these school closures are now presenting themselves in the reduced mental and emotional wellbeing of students across India.
It was at this time of crisis that world got to see the real impact on the social sector – a sector that has faced increasing scrutiny from the government and public alike for the misdeeds of some during recent years. Civil society and non-governmental organizations in India were one of the first responders to help lessen the impact of this novel disease. This was not only in terms of medical care but also the ripple effect on the day-to-day living. Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and lockdown, the social sector stepped up to identify the problems and support the needy. The social sector reached out in a number of ways: helping people directly in the hospitals, providing food and essentials to those who had lost their livelihoods and ensuring that children did not lose out on their education. New challenges that came with a first-of-its-kind lockdown were identified such as domestic violence and mental health issues. Small and large NGOs came together during this time of distress and were at the forefront of the fight through and through.
A major lesson learned regarding the pandemic has been the result of a collective effort towards disasters. COVID-19 has been an ongoing disaster which has affected people from all socio- economic backgrounds, and it has brought a large section of the people together. This has given us a glimpse of people’s generosity. In a little over 1.5 months after the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) for COVID-19 Relief was announced on March 28, IndiaSpend reported that the Fund had received USD 1.27 billion. Funds also started pouring in from throughout the world for NGOs working in the most hard-hit areas. An important role that the civil society has been playing during the period of COVID-19 is to ensure that funds are spent in the most appropriate ways to ensure maximum coverage.
After the first wave subsided, life had returned to a fairly normal state and people had resumed their work, worship and play. Then came the Spring of 2021. The invader had arrived and soon waves of COVID-19 cases began to impact communities and the healthcare system. Many of the early mild cases were treated aggressively with massive oxygen therapy and hospitalization. Sadly, this turned out to be a fatal mis-call for the health care sector. As wave after wave of more serious cases materialized, the hospitals found themselves in an oxygen shortage. Hospital beds also became increasingly scarce. Word got out that even if you made it to the hospital there was no guarantee of proper care due to the shortages of supplies and equipment. Sadly, this resulted in many fatalities that otherwise would have likely survived with proper medical care.
Medical oxygen became the number one issue for predicting survivability of COVID-19. As people began to realize the importance of the oxygen issue some people began to hoard oxygen cannisters acquired on the black market. All in all, a secondary disaster formed and contributed massively to the primary disaster.
Many agencies both private, corporate and governmental began to respond however they could and to fill in the gaps of our healthcare system. NGOs like ADRA India evaluated the best ways and methods to respond as well. Resulting from consultation with the healthcare community, ADRA India decided to procure and install oxygen related supplies and equipment. They were able to quickly supply oxygen concentrators to a number of facilities and organizations. However, the larger goal was to procure and supply Oxygen Generation Plants (OGP) for hospitals. Hospitals are very dependent on available supplies of medical oxygen and even if supplies are available there is still a dependance on transport and delivery.
With a medical OGP, a hospital is extremely well positioned to treat COVID-19 patients on a consistent and predictable level indefinitely. Donors from around the world stepped up and supported the cause and as of this writing, ADRA has procured a number of OGPs for hospitals around India. This has given healthcare providers an added level of confidence in the event there are future surges of COVID-19 or other respiratory disease outbreaks.
We are all learning as we go to step up to unique challenges of this pandemic. One of the main lessons learned is to prepare for the future by learning from the past. The pivotal role of the social sector must also be acknowledged and strengthened. This is best done through more financial aid, enhanced relations between the government, the social sector, and institutions, and inclusion in the decision-making process. Looking ahead, a structured and organized collaborative model is needed to overcome the impact that has left the world grappling with socio-economic challenges. We at ADRA India hope that we are responding to these lessons in a small way and by adapting to the changing needs we are helping the country with gifts that keep on giving.