An On-the-Ground View of India’s Pandemic Fight

Alok Mohanty, 52

Title: Consulting emergency response coordinator, Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian relief organization
Location: Odisha, India

In early 2021, India seemed to have COVID-19 contained, with cases dropping markedly by late January. But by mid-March, the pandemic surged to crisis levels, with reports of daily new infections in India spiking past 400,000 by May 5. Mohanty is coordinating the emergency response with Project HOPE on the ground in the state of Odisha.

As told to Lisa Esposito as part of U.S. News & World Report’s “One Pandemic Question” series. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is your experience as India fights COVID-19 — how bad is it?

Never goes a day when I do not hear about the loss of life in my vicinity. Family members of patients are pleading for help as the country reels under an acute shortage of medical-grade oxygen and hospital beds. Appeals are all over the social networking sites flooding with requests regarding availability of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and oxygen refills, plasma and lifesaving medicines. There are also reports of a black market for oxygen cylinders and lifesaving drugs.

The outbreak of the new variant of the coronavirus during the second wave is overwhelming for both government and private health care providers. The situation is quite serious, worsened by a lack of facilities, equipment and supplies, including hospital beds, intensive care units, oxygen concentrators and ventilators, and with limited health care workers.

Crematoriums and burial grounds across the country are struggling to take the load as COVID-19 deaths mount. People living in underdeveloped areas outside India’s cities are contracting COVID-19 without access to treatment. Hospitals have run out of ventilation equipment and hospital beds while thousands of new cases continue to be diagnosed daily. Villagers have been flocking to stuffed city hospitals, raising transmission risks. People are watching helplessly as their loved ones are gasping for breath due to lack of oxygen and dying a painful death.

[Read: Unsung Heroes Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic.]

The COVID-19 situation in India is complex, likely caused by a combination of multiple factors, and experts say it will take a global response to significantly reduce the toll. The situation in the country has drawn global attention and aid is pouring in from around the world.

Amidst all the chaos, individuals, organizations and groups have come up to help people in need. Many such heroes have surfaced who have gone the extra mile to provide oxygen cylinders, cremate COVID-infected bodies, provide food to people in quarantine, convert religious places into COVID hospitals, arrange plasma donors or locate a breast milk donor for a day-old baby who lost her mother to COVID. And we can’t forget all those who are verifying leads for finding treatment, services and resources and passing on the correct pandemic-related information.

My heart goes out to all those health care professionals who are risking their lives and saving patients. We pray for families who lost their loved ones, and for strength to those who are fighting this deadly virus.

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