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Gasping For Air: India’s COVID-19 Woes Worsen

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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.

It is conspicuous that India is facing the merciless onslaught of COVID-19. Truly, India is in its darkest days of the pandemic, but there may be still darker days to come. It is surveyed that one in three new infections are globally occurring in the country.  COVID cases are higher in numbers, and India is breaking world records with 4 lakh cases daily. It is propelling the global pandemic. It indicates a grave threat to the economic and social well-being of the Indian people.

Sport Complex In Delhi Converted Into COVID-19 Care Centre
An oxygen cylinder for patients inside an isolation ward at the Commonwealth Games Village Sports Complex which is temporarily converted into a coronavirus care Centre in New Delhi, India on July 14, 2020. This sports complex is equipped with a bed capacity of 500 and is attached to LNJP hospital to treat mild and asymptomatic patients infected with the coronavirus. (Photo by Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the political leaders have been too slow and failed to take the outbreak seriously. Lately, they are realizing the gravity of the task at hand. Restrictions, lockdowns, and curfews are extending and expanding, yet India is always one step behind the virus. India’s extant catastrophic state of affairs, by all means, necessitate and demand effective intervention with much more rigorous and extensive action.

Paucity Of Data

The grim situation of India in the aftermath of the second COVID-19 wave has turned all to tizzy and topsy-turvy. It has become difficult to understand the true scope of this disaster. The health bulletin shows New Delhi’s COVID-19 positive test rate has climbed above 30%. Currently, one out of every three tests is positive, which means that we are likely missing many infections. Indeed, it is quite disheartening to see the number of infections in lakhs daily.

The number of deaths taking place sometimes is not documented. The official statistics presented by the Delhi Health Department report 2,000 fatalities daily. In my opinion, the true number is undeniably much higher. All the newspapers report that with novel coronavirus death rate continues to rise in Delhi.

The public health departments of the municipal corporations are directed to increase COVID cremation capacity to tackle an inflow of 1,000 bodies a day. Recently, the Times of India reported that Delhi is witnessing a 15% rise in funerals every day. It is also surveyed that one crematorium in Delhi has gone from managing 20 bodies daily to 100.

How Do We Control This?

Addressing the present crisis, the Supreme Court said that it is a ‘National Emergency’. The center should come out with an effective action plan to tackle the crisis. Sure enough, it requires serious intervention and closer examination; and the national policies for the security of public health need urgent and immediate attention.

India needs an upsurge of testing and enough oxygen cylinder supply to treat the COVID patients. India should increase its testing rates several times over, to get the positivity rate under a certain percentage. The nation has the capacity and resources to safeguard the Nation amid the COVID-19 surge. Sadly, the Government has not made enough of a priority.

NITI Aayog said that it is no longer enough to wear masks outdoors. The time has come to wear it at home as well. It can serve the purpose enormously in curbing the spread of COVID infections. Wearing a mask must be mandatory. It is globally advised, too.

We are all going through unprecedented suffering and crisis therefore all major indoor and outdoor events, including rallies, religious festivals, and ceremonies, weddings, etc., should be banned.      It is the need of the hour. It is essential, too. If these given directives by the Government are not strictly observed, the nation will be too far for any hope of bringing this outbreak under control; and it will also aggravate the impact of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccinating the population is the key to ending the pandemic.

It is believed, India’s pandemic will finally come to an end if enough Indians are vaccinated. Vaccines can help to control the spread of the virus. But the Indian administration should understand the key is ensuring the country has enough vaccines. Regrettably, the country is in shortage of vaccine jabs. In fact, the government needs to work seriously with manufacturers like the Serum Institute, or even purchase it from other countries. The Indian government needs somehow to drive production higher.

Loss And Insecurity  

Amid political and social handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Indians are struck by persisting issues of food insecurity, too. The nature and handling of the pandemic have not only caused a loss in nutrition but the loss of jobs and lower incomes and the persistent struggle of migrants, too. Even the middle class has shrunk in great numbers.

The Centre assured to restart the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) with 5 kg of rice/wheat per person per month for the next two months. This is not enough. The Government should provide similar support and other nutritious items for stabler longer periods and meanwhile, potential schemes could be explored to get grips with unemployment, food, and health insecurity, etc. This stipulates serious commitment.

A Ray Of Hope

Certainly, the Asian country is reeling under a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us are all experiencing the worst days of the pandemic. People have lost their family members, friends, and dear and near ones. These traumatic experiences are overwhelming everyone with qualms and worries. On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact about administrative and governance fatigue, poor political choices, poor communications, and neglect of public health principles.

Many celebrated and sounded the trumpet that India had “beaten the virus” even without knowing how and why. At this crushing moment, there are a lot of things expected of each individual to protect oneself and one’s family, and the country at large. But political leaders and the entire administration should do much more at the grassroots level. There is a beam of hope in such a trial period of fears and deaths; we know that the persisting, devastating and appalling situation can be put to an end, and we too know how to do so.

We know that medicine and social science are two pillars of public health. Therefore, we need to prioritize the common good of the nation keeping away all our differences, and collectively concentrate on public health measures, medical solutions, the flow of vaccinations, universal masking, and coherent management across public health efforts.

Similarly, other issues like food and nutrition insecurity, the endless struggle of migrant labor exodus, loss of jobs, low incomes, etc., are matters of concern, they cannot be overlooked, they need to be given equal attention. Doing so, I envisage the lives of millions can be salvaged from COVID-19 wreaking havoc and India can begin normal life soon.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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