India united in fear of Covid-19

Medical works care for patients in a makeshift ward

Healthcare workers in PPE attend to Covid-19 patients in a makeshift isolation ward in a banquet hall in New Delhi. Image: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As India struggles to cope with coronavirus, DEC charities are working to reduce the impact of the escalating health and humanitarian crisis there. 

The desperate situation pictured in the capital Delhi is mirrored elsewhere across the country, where people are “united in fearful expectation” according to Oxfam India’s Chief Executive Amitabh Behar. 

Prices of medicines and oxygen have sky-rocketed, and hospitals and health centres are begging for equipment and treatment. 

Behar said: "People are literally dying on the streets or in car parks or in their homes. There is no one in India who doesn’t know of friends or family or colleagues who have not had Covid. We are a country that is united in fearful expectation. This is a situation so bad; in my memory it is almost beyond my conception. 

"We are living inside a humanitarian disaster now that is everywhere, in our cities and in our villages. India needs the world’s help now.” 

Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association India said: “We have people who are working around the clock to bury the dead and women working in people’s homes to care for the sick and dying, all with little protection or support.” 

Mohammed Asif, Plan International India’s Executive Director, said: “We must all come together and act now to alleviate the suffering of large numbers of people affected by Covid-19.”  

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Help for healthcare 

DEC charities are working in a number of ways to alleviate the health crisis. More than 46,000 Red Cross staff and volunteers across 550 districts India are supporting Covid-19 response efforts – providing oxygen, ambulance services, first aid and PPE.   

Oxfam is urgently buying oxygen tanks and masks, beds, digital thermometers and other medical equipment for hospitals where supplies are desperately low and will supply PPE to hundreds of frontline health workers. Plan International is also supporting hospitals to meet shortages of essential medical supplies like PPE kits, beds and oxygen cylinders. 

CAFOD is planning to use funds raised from the DEC appeal to urgently set up temporary treatment centres to support and quarantine people with coronavirus, and give out medical kits to vulnerable people. CARE International is also setting up temporary Covid hospitals and care centres helping people get oxygen, PPE, medicines and other medical support. Since April 27, CARE has set up one emergency centre with 100 beds in the state of Bihar and plans to set up five more.  

Action Against Hunger is working with local authorities and its partners to provide essential supplies to frontline workers including PPE kits, face masks, gloves and sanitiser. Islamic Relief is helping to deliver oxygen supplies and Covid swab testing machines while ActionAid is supporting helplines to provide up-to-date information on the availability of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and Covid vaccines. 

Loss of livelihoods 

Lockdowns and restrictions to prevent the virus are affecting casual workers. Informal workers relying on daily work to provide food for their families are being affected as society goes into a tailspin. Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association India says: “This devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections is leaving India’s army of informal and migrant workers more vulnerable than ever.” 

Oxfam India’s CEO Amitabh Behar said: “There is building in front of us an even bigger disaster tomorrow. Millions of people have fled from unemployment in the cities to unemployment in their villages. Without help, their futures prospects will be bleak and short." 

Oxfam is helping the most marginalised people affected by the pandemic by giving them food rations and cash support. This includes help for migrant workers who are stranded at railway stations, bus terminals or at their place of work.   

Hunger 

One of the biggest secondary effects of coronavirus is hunger as food prices rise. Action Against Hunger is providing food and nutritional support to families and Islamic Relief is also providing food packs to households in the state of Kerala, where many people have lost their job or income as a result of lockdowns.  

ActionAid is supporting thousands of people affected by the pandemic with emergency cash and food aid. Save the Children is providing additional support to the most vulnerable children through food baskets and food vouchers while World Vision is supporting vulnerable children and families with food and cash distributions. 

Women and girls  

Women and girls are being hardest hit by the second wave. ActionAid is seeing a further surge in vulnerability as movement restrictions, cramped living conditions, stress about jobs and the virus, are putting women and girls at risk. 

Sion Kongari, ActionAid Association India’s regional manager of programmes in Rajasthan and Gujarat, said: “Women and girls hadn’t recovered from the impact of the first wave of the pandemic when they were hit by this rapidly escalating second wave. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen rising violence against women and girls, increases in child marriage and sexual exploitation. 

“As the majority of rag pickers, domestic workers and street vendors, women are either prevented from working due to restrictions or facing greater risk of infection.” 

Preventing the spread of the virus 

While the crisis is ongoing, prevention is still vital. CARE is launching a behaviour change campaign to encourage people to wash their hands, socially distance, and wear masks, and is addressing vaccine hesitancy in the population. They have also distributed thousands of kits with masks and sanitiser to help people protect themselves and reduce the spread of the virus. 

Christian Aid is planning to set up quarantine centres in rural Jharkhand to map, manage and mitigate the spread of Covid-19. CAFOD is setting up information centres to raise awareness of how people can protect themselves from coronavirus and encourage people to get vaccinated when they are able to. 

Meanwhile ActionAid plans to distribute thousands of sanitation kits to help people stay safe during burials and other essential activities. The charity is focused on reaching the most vulnerable people including migrants, to ensure they can get health check-ups and quarantine information. World Vision is distributing PPE, hygiene kits and handwashing supplies, and running awareness campaigns.