India hit by devastating wave of COVID-19

A man waits outside a factory to get his oxygen cylinder refilled in New Delhi, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Oxfam is providing medical equipment, hygiene kits, protective equipment, as well as food and other assistance for migrant workers and others.

India is experiencing a deadly wave of coronavirus deaths, and hospitals are unable to meet the demand for treatment. People desperate for medical care are struggling to pay for oxygen and medication, according to news accounts. The poorest migrant workers and others unable to work, travel, or afford food and health care are suffering the worst.

India’s COVID-19 outbreak is resulting in more than 350,000 cases per day in the last week of April.

“Poor communities, once again, will bear the brunt,” Oxfam India says in a statement, explaining that many people “without sanitation and using shared toilets and water points have no means to follow COVID-19 guidelines.”

The statement further described the situation facing the most vulnerable people affected by the pandemic in India: “Sporadic lockdowns and curfews have already triggered another exodus of migrant workers, putting them at risk of not just contracting COVID-19 but also prolonged months without jobs or money.” In the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Oxfam India provided hot cooked meals to thousands of migrant workers stranded during lockdowns across the country. In the subsequent months and through the last year, Oxfam India provided dry rations and cash to some of the most vulnerable people across the country.

Oxfam India has consulted district officials in 16 states to assess the most urgent needs, and is delivering safety and hygiene kits (including masks, gloves, soap, and sanitizers that communities and frontline workers can use to keep clean and prevent transmission). Oxfam staff report they are prioritizing five states including Maharashtra, one of the hardest-hit areas, where they have already begun distributing protective equipment.

Following an initial assessment of needs, Oxfam India reports it intends to:

  • Procure oxygen tanks, beds, digital thermometers, and other medical equipment to help government hospitals where supplies are desperately low.
  • Provide food to stranded workers and other vulnerable communities.
  • Transfer cash to poor households, particularly ones headed by women, to pay for their immediate needs or establish small businesses.
  • Distribute hygiene kits to people at risk, and protective equipment to health workers.

Crisis demonstrates need for vaccine

As India works to contain the most recent outbreak, the country is in the midst of a vaccination campaign that has reached more than 139 million people—less than nine percent of its vast population. The country is facing shortages of the ingredients it needs to produce more vaccine, while trying to import more vaccines from wealthy countries now producing and administering most of the vaccines in the world.

Oxfam is advocating for a People’s Vaccine: A patent-free, mass-produced vaccine that is distributed fairly and made available free of charge, to every individual, rich and poor alike, in every country. Without it, the world faces more outbreaks like the one we are seeing in India, more mutations of the virus, and more poverty as low- and middle-income countries struggle to immunize their people.

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