The world needs to know that the COVID-19 situation in India is far worse than people realize—and it will be long after the impact of this current surge in infections.
When a tsunami hits a coastline, the vulnerable and poor suffer more than the rich. The wealthy can afford to build disaster-proof houses and structures. They can get “anything money can buy.”
While it takes years for members of the lower class to rebuild their lives, the people in power recover at a faster rate. Yet the second wave of COVID-19 in India is not discriminating between the rich and the poor.
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This generation will never forget the piles of corpses burning across the country and the sight of dead bodies floating in rivers as crematoriums and burial grounds struggle to keep up with the disposal of the deceased.
In large part, we in India successfully managed the first wave of COVID-19; but we were fooled into believing that we were immune to a second. Medical experts were the only ones in India warning us about a second wave of the pandemic, which wreaked havoc throughout Europe and the U.S.
Sadly, politicians fell into a frenzied triumphalism based on how the first wave of COVID-19 affected India. They postulated about “Indian immunity” and praised the efficacy of local, unscientific “cures.” Some even suggested that the waters of the Ganges River would kill the virus as tens of millions of people thronged at Haridwar for a holy dip.
People have been dying with virtually no access to such necessities as rapid tests, oxygen, and medical care, especially in rural India. While the world is very much focused on the conflict in Israel, our situation remains catastrophic.
A trip to the main district hospital for those living in the villages is a last resort, as the quality of care and facilities have been in steady decline for years. Judging by the way this virus continues to mutate, India is facing years of devastation as people are dying en masse. This second wave of COVID-19 is ravaging the countryside in particular. Infections and deaths are grossly underreported.
Medical experts are saying that at least 1 million people have died already and that another million will be dead by the end of June if hard measures are not implemented.
The actual numbers are probably much higher.
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Most Indians know that our public health care system is broken and cannot adequately meet the sprawling country’s needs. In the last budget, the allocation for health care was cut by nearly 50 percent. Our annual allocation for health care is only 2 percent of India’s budget, while nations like the United States have over 15 percent allocated for health care.
Life is the most basic human right—a right that many people in India are being denied, exacerbated by our obsession with class and caste identities.
Over the past couple of decades, state and central governments in India have been lulled into complacency. That is because patients who are desperate have been willing to borrow money to get treated at India’s largely unregulated and booming private hospitals, many of which are unscrupulous and leave patients with intolerable financial burdens.
The Indian government needs to prioritize national health care in its budget and invest in community health centers across India. It isn’t that it’s impossible to solve this problem. Years ago, the Indian government delivered the polio vaccine with great success, vaccinating hundreds of millions of children.
The COVID-19 plague will not leave us until the Indian government takes drastic actions now. The impacts of COVID-19 wouldn’t be as pronounced had the government done so earlier.
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As a church, we are trying to do our part. Our Good Shepherd health care initiative has deployed community clinics, including virtual clinics, as well as food help through our schools and health clinics in about 40 centers across the nation. It’s a modest effort, but we are still helping many people, and it’s scalable. Our service providers are motivated by faith, not by profit.
This is also why the national government needs to immediately reconsider its antipathy toward NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the fields of health care and education. They must reverse their regulatory blocks based on religious identity and review their unduly stringent FCRA rules, which hamper rapid humanitarian response in crises. (The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, or FCRA, is India’s law regulating the flow of foreign funding into the country.)
India’s premier body for information technology, NASSCOM, has also asked the government to relax the FCRA rules. Otherwise, more people are going to die. It’s that simple.
We need tens of thousands of health care professionals to address this need now. The world is willing to help.
Those lobbyists in India who demonized Christian NGOs in particular as conversion factories would be wise to remember that India was ruled by Great Britain—a Christian empire—for 150 years. The majority of Indians never converted to Christianity.
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Since India declared her independence, she has been a largely Hindu empire, since most levers of power and economics are in the hands of Hindus. What is there to fear about 2 percent of the population? Genuine care for the poor and the needy (the primary focus of Christians like those in our Good Shepherd churches) has not led to mass conversions, but has instead helped bring education, health care and economic development to Indians, whatever their religion.
And who can object to their new knowledge about the life and teachings of Christ, who would never condone or support any forced and fraudulent conversions? When He lived on Earth, Jesus did good to all, whether they ended up following Him or not.
He had come to demonstrate the unconditional love of God toward all mankind.
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Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is an internationally renowned human and civil rights activist. He is founder of Dignity Freedom Network, which advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as president of the All India Christian Council.