Why India is failing to provide Covid aid to those in need

As India's Covid-19 crisis reached crisis proportions last month, dozens of countries pledged vital assistance. Last week, planeloads of ventilators, oxygen supplies, and antiviral drugs started to arrive, with images showing large packages being unloaded at New Delhi airport.

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Why India is failing to provide Covid aid to those in need the policy times

As India’s Covid-19 crisis reached crisis proportions last month, dozens of countries pledged vital assistance. Last week, planeloads of ventilators, oxygen supplies, and antiviral drugs started to arrive, with images showing large packages being unloaded at New Delhi airport.

Medical personnel and local authorities continue to lament the same crippling shortages that have strained the health-care system for weeks, raising concerns among international donors about where the assistance is going. In a US State Department news briefing on Friday, a reporter asked where the US aid was, demanding “accountability for US taxpayers’ money,” according to the briefing transcript. “Is there anything being done to check on how it is being distributed, the aid that we are sending?” the reporter asked.

On Tuesday evening, the Indian government issued a vehement denial of any delay, claiming that it had put in place a “streamlined process” for allocating aid. According to the Health Ministry, nearly 4 million donated products from 24 categories have already been distributed to 38 health care facilities across the country.

Also Read: Inside story of Covid vaccines in India by numbers; Production Ability, Shipments, and Domestic Vaccinations

“We sent delegations to (the government) for clarity on supplies of (oxygen), drugs and vaccination drive but were not spoken to in clarity from the Union Government,” said Raghu Sharma, health minister of Rajasthan state, on Tuesday. “Regarding the import or foreign aid, no information or supply details have been shared with the state government.”

The Health Ministry announced on Tuesday that it had provided assistance to two hospitals in Rajasthan, located in the cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur. There are many possible explanations for the delay, including excessive bureaucracy, human error, or time-consuming protocol. But such potential reasons mean nothing to those on the ground; what they want is for the government to move quickly and get help to their ICU wards, where thousands die every day.

The union territory of Delhi, which does not generate its own oxygen and relies on the central government to send allocations from various manufacturers and states, suffers the most from oxygen shortages.

Logistic Crisis

The government created a system to deliver supplies to states in seven days, according to a news release issued by the Health Ministry on Tuesday. They started working on the plan on April 26 and didn’t release their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) – instructions for distributing aid – until May 2. The date on which the distribution of aid began was not specified in the publication.

Also with the SOP in place, the delivery mechanism is complex, with space for more delay. Once in India, the assistance is obtained by the Indian Red Cross Society, which collaborates closely with the government. According to the Health Ministry, the Red Cross collaborates with customs to authorise the goods, and customs is “working 24 x 7 to fast track and clear the goods on arrival.”

After being cleared, the products are given to the ministry and HLL Lifecare, a government-owned health care product manufacturer that manages the transportation of help to its final destination. But it’s a massive logistical undertaking because “the materials from abroad are currently coming in different numbers, specifications and at different times,” the ministry said in its Tuesday release. A number of problems might arise, it said: “in many cases,” the type or number of aid supplies don’t match the inventory list provided by the foreign donor.

India is a massive country with a population of 1.3 billion citizens, and the majority of foreign assistance is flown to New Delhi, where it is then redistributed to various states. The military has been mobilised to assist with this process, with the air force flying supplies to different cities as well as international flights.

Lacking Oxygen

While the government works to get backlogged aid to desperate states, it is also working to boost domestic oxygen production. And, at every point, federal officials have said that they have enough supplies to meet the demands of the states.

“On August 1, 2020, the country’s (daily) output of oxygen was 5,700 metric tonnes (6,283 tonnes), which has now risen to about 9,000 metric tonnes (9,920 tonnes),” a Health Ministry spokesperson said at a news conference on Monday. The ministry announced last month that it had 50,000 metric tonnes (55,115 tonnes) of excess oxygen stocks. On Monday, the ministry spokesperson again asserted, “There is enough oxygen available in the country.”

The Health Ministry announced on Twitter that two of five on-site oxygen plants earmarked for Delhi hospitals will be operational. According to a ministry release, the government intends to establish 500 plants across the country within three months.

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Why India is failing to provide Covid aid to those in need
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As India's Covid-19 crisis reached crisis proportions last month, dozens of countries pledged vital assistance. Last week, planeloads of ventilators, oxygen supplies, and antiviral drugs started to arrive, with images showing large packages being unloaded at New Delhi airport.
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THE POLICY TIMES
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