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COVID-19 In India: “Everything That Could Go Wrong, Did.”

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Delhi has been under a very tiring and sad lockdown for almost three weeks now. Last night, while searching helplessly for a movie to watch on Netflix, I stumbled upon Christopher Nolan’s science-fiction epic, Interstellar (2014).

It was not long before, that I was running across my room, searching for a notepad and a pen. “Murphy’s Law,” the movie talked about, “Everything that can go wrong, will.” I seemed to have found just the topic for my article.

As we stare at death through the screens of our smartphones and laptops, is it not about time that we ask ourselves, didn’t we see this coming? Wasn’t it supposed to go wrong any moment? Exactly in the way in which Murphy’s Law warned us?

India, for decades, has been a country that is infamous for its fragile health infrastructure. As of February 2020, the doctor to patient ratio in India was 1:1,404 against the WHO’s suggested ratio of 1:1,000. What makes this data worse is the fact that the ratio in rural areas stood at 1:10,926. Along with it, it is an open secret that the condition of civil hospitals and primary healthcare in our country is not the best.

Representational Image.

In his book Poor Economics, the Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee writes: “In the slums of Delhi, a study found that only 34 per cent of the ‘doctors’ had a formal medical degree.” Although the data is not very recent, but it holds a mirror to the state of health infrastructure of India.

A global problem that needs attention is that WHO’s funding is totally based on voluntary contributions by the countries. It means that any major country can coerce the revered organisation to take or refrain from taking any significant step in case of any health emergency. The ominous treats thrown by Donald Trump last year to cut WHO’s funding, still ring loudly in my head. So does the reluctance of China, to let the WHO-led team of scientists inspect the origins of the virus.

In her book titled COVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened And How To Stop The Next One, Debora Mackenzie has pointed out how after the economic depression of 2008, major countries of the world decided to cut the public investment in the health sector. Even after a narrow escape during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, most of the governments seemed unconcerned about the severity of the situation. Most of it was simply because of the belief that it was ‘almost impossible’ to get struck by a pandemic of this scale in the 21st century. Well, talk about bad luck.

In India, there is another reason that made the matters worse. It is the continual fading of cooperative federalism. Today, most of the deaths in Delhi are happening because of the lack of oxygen. ‘Happy Hypoxia’ in the second wave requires a sudden supply of oxygen and that has been the major cause of deaths in the past month. Sadly, even when the oxygen was available, it could not reach hospitals in time.

When a national government is run like a one-man show and the Chief Ministers are kept at an arm’s length, such supply chain fallouts are bound to happen. The present extent of mistrust between the states and the centre was conspicuously visible in the Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s recent tweet. PM’s emphasis on cooperative federalism in rallies and speeches was full of just empty words, it seems.

The lack of transparency regarding the PM Cares fund even in front of the legislature and the executive of this country is also a case in point. A ‘strongman’ image of the government can prove to be Narendra Modi’s hamartia this time. The Aristotelian model of one-way communication being followed by the NDA at the centre has only accentuated the faultlines.

In hindsight, the destruction and chaos spread by the second wave was surprisingly inevitable. The lack of effective means of questioning accompanied by the downfall of media ethics played a major role in hiding the mess that was unfolding.

The Indian government was waiting for the garbage to hit the fan without a broom in its hand. It started assembling the broomsticks only when the garbage was all over the walls and floor and ceiling. And believe me, it is a slow process. It takes at least 5 years to make a doctor, years of enthusiastic investment to boost the production of ventilators and decades of concerned deliberation to increase the number of hospitals in a country. Now, it will take years for us to come to terms with the loss we have faced, both emotional and economic.

Let this remind us that it is our duty to hold accountable, those in power with the strictest questions. And we must do that in every way possible.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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