Devex CheckUp: What India didn’t learn from the first wave of COVID-19

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A month ago, India registered some 40,000 new daily cases of COVID-19. According to the latest count, that daily number has jumped more than sevenfold, to over 300,000 cases. As the crisis spirals across the country’s cities and rural areas alike, we’re looking at what went wrong in India’s response to the pandemic.

•  India’s public health system is overwhelmed, as desperate COVID-19 patients and their kin seek the help of strangers on social media to secure hospital beds, oxygen, and medicine. While the crisis in cities is visible, Amruta is investigating how the second wave has affected rural areas too. 

•  The immediate concern in most hospitals is oxygen supply. Industries have been asked to divert their share to hospitals, with special trains assigned to transport it. Meanwhile, an investigation by Indian media outlet Scroll found that while the officials invited bids for oxygen generation plants eight months ago, most are not running yet — and a leaking oxygen tank killed at least 24 patients at a Maharashtra hospital Wednesday.

•  Amid soaring cases, several states have imposed lockdown measures, fuelling a mass exodus of migrant workers to their home villages, in a repeat of 2020. And, once again, thousands of workers are expected to spread the virus as they travel.

•  While the Indian government has taken steps to ramp up vaccine production capacity, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla’s direct tweet to U.S. President Joe Biden to “lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S.” and increase vaccine production raised concerns about the capability of diplomatic channels to aid vaccine manufacturers. As of May 1, half of vaccine supplies in India will be sold on the open market, though free shots will still be available for those over 45.

•  The second wave has also left patients scrambling for drugs, and aside from dexamethasone, older drugs haven’t shown much effectiveness against COVID-19. Alongside the need to screen potential new drugs is to ensure all countries can access and use them, Unitaid’s Dr. Philippe Duneton tells Jenny.

Lack of access

•  The Kenyan government has finally released HIV medicine stuck at its port in Mombasa since January. For months, a diplomatic standoff between Kenya and the U.S. delayed the delivery of more doses, forcing patients to skip life-saving medications, Sara Jerving reports.

•  Vaccine passports could potentially allow travel for those who are vaccinated — but given the inequalities of vaccine availability, they may just create “another superstructure or colonial hierarchy,” Partners in Health’s Joia Mukherjee tells Andrew Green.

•  In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a WHO survey found that just 27% of hospitals are operational. WHO’s Dr. Mike Ryan called it “a health crisis on top of a humanitarian crisis,” with concerns about widespread malnutrition, malaria, cholera, measles, COVID-19, and meningitis.

The next million

A timeline of the global COVID-19 death toll.

This past weekend, the global COVID-19 death toll passed 3 million, a jump of 1 million in just three months. Predictions now expect the toll will hit 4 million deaths in another month — and many countries, such as Papua New Guinea, are thought to be undercounting COVID-19 deaths, meaning official numbers may not be reflecting the full spread of infection. Lisa Cornish reports on what could lie ahead.

Global health job of the week 

Chief of Party, PMI Uganda Malaria Reduction Activity
Population Services International
Kampala, Uganda

See more jobs

Did you know

At present, only 38 countries and territories have been certified malaria-free by the World Health Organization. Ahead of World Malaria Day on Sunday, WHO launched the E-2025 initiative to help 25 more countries, in the last stages of elimination, reach the last mile to eliminate malaria in the next four years.

Quotable

“It is completely unethical that high-income countries are now vaccinating young and healthy people, if that happens at the expense of people in risk groups, and on the front lines in low- and middle-income countries. ... this is a moral test.”

— Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist

Thunberg recently donated $120,000 to the WHO Foundation for the purchase of vaccines via the COVAX Facility.

What we’re reading 

U.K. human challenge trials plan to reinfect people who have already had COVID-19. [Al Jazeera]

Johnson & Johnson is resuming the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine in Europe — but with a warning of a possible link between the vaccine and rare blood clots. [New York Times]

After almost 40 years of work, Gambia says it has eliminated trachoma, a neglected tropical disease that is a leading cause of blindness. [Reuters]

About the authors

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.
  • Amruta Byatnal

    Amruta Byatnal is an Associate Editor at Devex based in New Delhi. She reports on global health, gender and human rights. Previously, she worked for News Deeply and The Hindu. She is a graduate of Cornell University where she studied international development.