Update from India: 'We cannot say the crisis is over yet'

A medic prepares an injection at a medical centre in india

A medic prepares an injection at a 100-bed care centre at an indoor stadium in Bihar, set up by CARE International and the local government. Image: Srinivas Panicker/CARE

Following the unprecedented wave of coronavirus in India, the DEC extended the Coronavirus appeal to include India on 28 April. Two months on, daily cases have decreased from a peak of 400,000, to less than 100,000, but aid workers say the number of deaths is still worrying and post-Covid complications are being reported. DEC member charities have scaled up their work in country to support poor and marginalised communities who have been devastated by the pandemic, using £14 million raised between 28 April and 9 June 2021.

“We are seeing less deaths now, and more people recovering than a month ago, but we cannot say that the crisis is over,” said Girish Mishra, Programme Coordinator with HelpAge India, local partner of Age International. 

Pankaj Anand, Humanitarian and Programme Director at Oxfam India, says his biggest fear now is that India will soon be hit by a third wave. “There are predictions that the third wave may start as soon as six weeks. And this time the worry is that it will start and spread rapidly in the countryside, where the health infrastructure is very poor and ill-equipped.”

Supporting the health services

Anand continues: “In some hospitals there aren’t even one or two BPAP machines, an essential life-saving device [that assists with breathing], and not enough beds. There’s still a shortage of PPE for doctors, staff, nurses, paramedics, even for ambulance drivers.” 

Oxfam is supporting three categories of hospitals by delivering regular packages, from digital thermometers and BPAP machines, through to oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and more beds.

Extended lockdowns 

Lockdowns have had a detrimental impact on the social, economic, physical and psychological wellbeing of millions of people, with the most vulnerable being hit the hardest.

Mishra said: “Night curfews and, in some areas, complete lockdowns continue severely affecting the economy, with migrant workers losing their jobs in the cities and returning home to their villages jobless. For elderly people in the rural areas, many of whom are dependent on the younger generation, food is becoming a big problem.”

With DEC funds, Oxfam is planning a minimum of two oxygen plants – PSA oxygen generators with a capacity ranging from 300 litres to 570 litres per minute, to support hospitals’ needs.

A volunteer prepares food packages

Kantha Prasad, a volunteer with Action Aid, prepares food packages as part of ActionAid's Covid relief programme. Image: Ritesh Uttamchandani/ActionAid

Food for vulnerable families 

Oxfam’s Anand agrees that the escalating food crisis is a real concern. He says: “The government has announced some food schemes, but they fall woefully short. We have millions of people that were just above the poverty line and now due to the pandemic they have fallen into poverty.”

Mishra says more help is needed and there are gaps in the nutritional food elderly people need to build immunity. 

HelpAge is distributing aid packages to 10,000 families across 15 States – about 5,000 of these with DEC funds. Designed with help from the community, the pack includes daily essentials such as rice, pulses, wheat flour, saag, sugar, cooking oil, kitchen masala, an immunity booster, nutritional supplement, and vitamins recommended by the Ministry of Health.  Soap and masks are also included to help people protect themselves.

Mishra continues: “In total HelpAge India works with 50,000 vulnerable families, but right now we only have funds to support 10,000 families with these packages, so more funds are desperately needed.” 

Preparing for the third wave

With a third wave predicted, Oxfam is working hard on Covid-19 awareness and is supporting 35,000-50,000 frontline workers to help people be prepared. Anand says: “These workers, such as the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) group have a big role to play. They make sure people follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, that they know where to go in an emergency, and who will do the referral. 

“We are using a variety of other tools. we send texts to large numbers of people in the countryside with messages on how to protect themselves, to why getting vaccinated is very, very important. We use a digital platform, do national television interviews and use loudspeakers mounted atop vehicles to reinforce messages on Covid protection.”


Only 3.6% of the public have now been fully vaccinated in India. This is partly due to a vaccine shortage, an under resourced healthcare system and hesitancy from some, particularly the elderly, to have a vaccine. HelpAge India has produced a poster to communicate about Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccination protocol. With a free HelpAge India and government helpline people can get advice about vaccines, help getting registered or support to get to a vaccination centre.  

Anand concludes: “I can only pray that the third wave is not as devastating as the second. At Oxfam we’re trying to fulfil all requests for medical equipment and supplies, and make sure they reach where they are needed as fast as possible.

“But my biggest concern going forwards is that the food crisis will linger much longer – possibly another one and a half years, maybe even two years. With no jobs anywhere, it's very troubling indeed.”

Donations to the Coronavirus Appeal are now being spent in eight countries, including India, helping vulnerable communities protect themselves against new variants of Covid-19.