Fast-moving rates of infection across South Asia have driven a precipitous rise in the world’s COVID-19 infection rate, causing concern for another wave of infections globally. The global number of cases has more than doubled in two months. India is of particular concern, where a surge in cases from virus variants in dense populations has pushed the country’s health system to a breaking point. India’s crisis has made the disease more deadly there than anywhere else on the planet at the moment. More than 18 million cases have been reported, constituting more than 40% of infections globally. The heavily populated Maharashtra region and Mumbai, its largest city, bears nearly 5 million cases as infections rose over the weekend, amounting to 1 infection for every 24 people. Bangalore, in India’s south and Uttar Pradesh — the most densely populated political district in the world — in the north also are burdened by steep rates of infection.
The strain on India’s health system is the most immediate concern, as a lack of bed space, testing, laboratory capacity, oxygen and other supplies cannot keep pace with demand. A lack of vaccines has also all but halted efforts to inoculate the population. Public health scientists advise the country’s 4,000 recorded deaths per day in this recent wave is likely too low of an estimate, given India’s challenges in health data collection. The sheer scale of the rate of infection is matched by dramatic reflections of the crisis in the streets: infected patients gasping for air on sidewalks, violence as families fight for ventilators to keep loved ones alive, crematoriums that cannot keep pace with demand have all been widely reported in news media.
The virus’ spread is likely to take the most significant toll on India’s marginalized populations. Economic pressures force vulnerable populations into significant migration patterns regionally, meaning the disease can be carried beyond India’s porous borders. Infection rates in Nepal, for example, have risen 550% in the last two weeks.
Migrant workers are losing wages when businesses close and often bring the virus with them when they return home.
Poverty rates had begun to rise again in India before the pandemic.
Estimates are that 1 in 10 Indian citizens live in poverty and the country’s poor account for at least 30% of the world’s low-income population.1 The spread of infection spans India’s densely populated cities and its rural communities alike, putting millions more at risk for infection and, possibly, death.
In India, Corus International will support the efforts of three local partners that have long-standing connections to Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health.
Together, our partners’ network of community facilities includes nearly 300 hospitals staffed by more than 10,000 healthcare professionals. Surveys indicate primary gaps focused on personal protective equipment, setting up additional intensive care units, creating more isolation wards, and escalating the provision of oxygen and basic medicines. Provisioning oxygen and ventilators specifically are part of a broader, coordinated effort with the government as these are more limited in supply. Medicines, pulse oximeters, PPE and screens, beds, etc. are available and will be procured locally. At least 50 hospitals require investments of $30,000 or more each to be able to cope with the staggering pace of demand. Corus International aims to support at least 10 hospitals in the immediate term in the coming six months with improved medical care, while improving the infrastructure in these clinics over the long term.
The pace of infection is not limited to cities alone and stretches to the country’s borders with Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, China and Myanmar.
The epidemic in India is predicted to move from the cities to the rural areas where Lutheran World Relief’s disaster preparedness and livelihoods work is concentrated. Here, longtime development and health partners will work at the community level, aiming to curb infection in both densely populated and rural communities with infection prevention supplies and messaging about how to keep safe. The rapid spread of infection reaches beyond cities to India’s porous border with Nepal. In these areas, our project communities and the neighboring districts need increased exposure to accurate information about basic COVID-19 prevention, selfisolation methods and vaccination awareness. There is also a demand for increased supplies to clean public places, distribute soap and sanitizer, and to address the significant financial hardship amongst the most vulnerable who have lost work and cannot migrate, cannot afford feeding their families, basic care or funeral expenses. Partners will work to share COVID-19 information, education and communication campaigns across districts with an overall population of nearly 2 million, distributing supplies to the most vulnerable.