- Written by Dr. Thomas Cherukat
INDIA: A COUNTRY IN TORMENTS
Dear Friends of the Fransalians,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this issue of Agape by way of reporting on the tragic situation in India with the devastating outbreak of the second wave of Covid-19. Many of you have sent me anxious inquiries to know more about the ever worsening situation in India. To say the least, India today is a broken country, a country in torments. There is much suffering, sorrow and grief all over the country. The infection rate is alarmingly increasing on a daily basis. The daily death toll is so high that the crematoriums and burial grounds are not able to cope as people are queuing up to find a slot to perform the last rites for their loved ones.
There is acute shortage of oxygen in the country. Hospitals across India are experiencing oxygen shortage. People are scrambling for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds. The country is also experiencing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care units with many families forced to travel long distances to find a bed for their loved ones. New Delhi, the Capital Region of India with its 20 million people is the worst hit. Hospitals are full and new patients are being turned away. Some streets outside medical facilities have become crowded with the seriously ill and their loved ones trying to arrange stretchers and oxygen supplies for them as they plead with hospital authorities for a place inside. Most of the mega cities like Bombay and Bangalore are reeling under the pressure of shortage of emergency health care facilities. The heart-breaking scenes that are being witnessed outside hospitals, people dying without getting oxygen, reveal the grim reality of India's healthcare system collapsing.
There is much public anger against the Central Government and the political class in general for their total failure to have anticipated this tragedy that was brewing up for a sufficiently long time. The timely warnings from scientists and medical experts were ignored. The precious time gained between the first wave and the second wave were not utilized to enhance the public health infrastructure that was urgently needed to face the onslaught of the second wave.
The universal vaccination drive was started on time but it did not pick up momentum due to lack of efficient co-ordination and effective communication. Due to lack of foresight and timely planning, India the largest producer of vaccines in the world is now going through an acute shortage of vaccines begging for help from outside. Only 160 million people have received the vaccines so far. It is certainly a huge task for any Government to inoculate a population of 1.4 billion people.
Instead of investing on the urgent improvement of public health infrastructure with better planning and coordination to face the next onslaught of the virus, the Government of India sadly chose to celebrate its seemingly successful handling of the first wave. All political parties in the country too went on a relaxation mode. Most political parties including the ruling party of the Central Government were busy with election campaigns in several States organizing massive rallies and public meetings with thousands of people in attendance disregarding the Covid-appropriate behavior while the virus was still in a dormant stage. Top leaders of most political parties including the Prime Minister and many of his cabinet ministers went on an aggressive election campaign encouraging massive crowds to gather flouting all norms of the Covid protocol in force. Religious festivals like the Kumbh Mela on the shores of the river Ganges involving millions of people were easily permitted and encouraged by the Government. International cricket matches with thousands of people physically present in the stadium were permitted and encouraged.
The Present Situation
At the time of my writing this report (08.05.21), India has registered a total of more than 21 million infections and over 230.000 deaths. There is a daily surge of over 400000 cases and a death toll of almost 4000 a day with a 15% and above positivity rate. More than 3 million active cases are reported. Experts predict that the rate of infections will continue rising for another two to three weeks. The true numbers of cases and deaths are likely to be higher than the official numbers provided by authorities, with many people avoiding testing or struggling to access it. Many deaths in rural areas also go unregistered. Testing is increasing, but so too are the number of positive results. The warnings from scientists and medical experts are alarming. A third wave is also predicted with more and more children and youth turning vulnerable and susceptible.
Help from Abroad
Help is pouring into India from more than 120 countries abroad including the USA, Germany, France and many of the EU countries. Oxygen Plants and many other necessary equipment are being airlifted on a daily basis. The Indian Railways have started the so-called Oxygen Express to bring oxygen to all corners of the country.
The poor suffer most
The second wave of the pandemic has once again exposed the poorest of the poor in India to the frightening scenario of thousands of families going hungry and unable to care for their children. Once again strict lockdowns are being enforced all over the country. Twenty-three percent of India’s population is estimated to be below the poverty line. Another twenty percent is considered to be the lower middle class. Hence 40 percent of India’s population is condemned to live a life of hand-to-mouth existence. This forty percent of India’s total population of 1.4 billion is a huge segment of over five hundred million people who are pushed into abject poverty due to loss of daily jobs and livelihood. Millions of children in India may never return to the schools as their families struggle to survive in the face of hunger and disease.
Covid-Care by the Fransalians
Along with the Church in India and many other social organizations, the Fransalians are in the forefront of bringing solace and comfort to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales as a major religious congregation has been extending whole-hearted support and collaboration to the local civil administrations in all their efforts to bring the pandemic under control as well as to render immediate help to the most needy people.
Most of the schools and institutions run by the Fransalians are made available as isolation wards. PPE (personal protection equipment) Kits and masks are provided to the frontline health workers free of cost. The school buses are made available for mobile clinics and for emergency transport needs. A good number of children who have lost their parents are given food and shelter in the Children’s Homes run by the Fransalians.
Covid-Care by Vikasjyothi
Vikasjyothi as the Mission Procure of the Fransalians has initiated a program of Covid-Care for the most needy families in all the Fransalian Missions in Karnataka and Kerala. There are families who have lost the only earning member. There are others who lost their jobs and livelihood. There are others who have no means of giving medical treatment to their sick members. The Fransalians have over 20 Mission Centres in Karnataka and Kerala. Vikasjyothi Covid Care is reaching out to 500 families in distress with a cash transfer of a minimum basic amount for their sustenance during these difficult times.
Appeal for Donations
The main source of funding for Vikasjyothi is the Agape Group known as Freundeskreis der Fransalianer based at Moembris in Kahlgrund, Germany. Our funds are very limited. We are doing whatever is possible.
Through this issue of Agape I would like to make an earnest appeal to all our friends and well-wishers to make a gesture of solidarity with your contributions so that we can reach out to many more families in distress and ameliorate their sufferings in this most difficult times. India as a nation is gasping for breath. The failure of the public health system is indeed a suffocating scenario. The Covid Crisis in India is now a national disaster.
As for me, personally I am well and totally confined to the house. More than 15 of my brother-priests have been Covid positive. All of them have recovered well. At the national level, the Church in India has lost more than 40 priests and two bishops due to Covid. Churches are shut. Schools are closed. The nation is once again brought to a standstill. The economy is bound to suffer badly. There is much anger, anguish, frustration and helplessness all around.
Dear Friends, I would like to thank you one and all for your support and solidarity in this very critical time. Let us be united in prayer and hope for some better times ahead.
Greetings and good wishes to all of you.
P. Thomas, MSFS