As COVID-19 Pandemic Rages in India, Health Workers Hold the Line
India's devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is severely overstraining the country's health care system. Hospital beds are filled beyond capacity and the need for medical oxygen is acute.
According to the latest weekly epidemiological update from the World Health Organization, India accounted for 46 percent of new COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide last week and one in four deaths: 2.6 million new confirmed cases — a 20 percent increase from the week prior — and 23,231 deaths in the past week alone. Actual numbers are believed to be even higher.
"Everybody is affected and the situation is grim," says Dr. Kaninika Mitra, a health specialist in the UNICEF Kolkata field office in West Bengal. "But not everything is about despair and gloom. We are hearing such inspiring stories from the field about doctors, nurses and paramedics who are working day in and day out 24/7 to save the lives of so many people."
Exams have been postponed so trainee doctors and nurses can be pressed into service to treat COVID-19 patients. Temporary emergency wards have been set up in train cars and banquet halls staffed by hardworking professionals willing to put their lives on the line to save others.
Meanwhile, health care workers are ensuring that children continue to receive their routine immunizations to avoid secondary disease outbreaks. Nurse midwives are reaching pregnant women with prenatal care so babies will be born healthy and community workers are providing COVID-19 vaccinations to those who are eligible.
UNICEF has sent critical lifesaving equipment and supplies to fight the surge in India, including 2 million face shields, 200,000 surgical masks, 3,000 oxygen concentrators with 2,000 more to be delivered later in May, 85 COVID-19 testing machines and other equipment, and deployed senior-level experts to the hardest hit areas to provide support to state and local authorities.
UNICEF is also supporting the regular monitoring of more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccination centers across 27 states of India, the procurement and installation of 25 oxygen plants for hospitals in the Northeast and Maharashtra, and the installation of more than 70 thermal scanners at various points of entry countrywide.
"The scenes we are seeing in India are simply devastating," said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. "The most vulnerable families are paying a steep price for this deadly new surge. UNICEF calls on all partners who are able to support in responding to this new wave to do so immediately."
"All of us are in this together," says Mitra. "We should not lose hope. We should fight this pandemic together."
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Top photo: A medical worker takes a swab sample from a boy's throat for a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test at a COVID-19 testing center in Ghaziabad, India on April 29, 2021. © UNICEF/UN0455357/. Video: Tong Su