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All That Has Gone Wrong With India’s Response To The Second Wave: An Analysis

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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.

On January 28, our Prime Minister declared victory over the coronavirus pandemic and set out to divert his focus to election rallies. Between the two waves, several reforms were introduced — farm laws, labour reforms, FCRA amendments, Vaccine Maitri, OTP regulations, the Twitter jibber-jabber etc. But none of the announcements or speeches were a warning against the massive destruction of the near future that started in March 2021. When apprehensions were raised, the Home Minister authoritatively announced to the media that rallies were not causing the surge in the middle of a ‘crowded’ Bengal campaign.

Within two weeks, the entire country came to a standstill. Social media was flooded with requests for oxygen, ICU beds and medicines. Meetings with Chief Ministers and DMs were held ‘after’ the country faced the wrath of the virus. The alarming rise of cases in Maharashtra did not ring a bell in the ears of the administration that the second wave had begun.

People lowered their guards, started attending family functions, dipped in holy Ganga during the Kumbh Mela and went for destination weddings — ‘the new- normal’ was no more trending. The State, because of its ill-preparedness, became a callous mute spectator in front of its desperate citizens.

Previously, when the pandemic had only affected marginalised sections, we raised questions for a few days and then rejoiced in the ‘un’-lockdown phase. However, this time, the second wave and its resultant lockdowns affected the working middle-class population the most. But the Centre put the onus on the states to take decisions without providing any monetary support or importing vaccines from the outside.

The article focuses on what and where things went wrong in responding to the ongoing second wave.

After the first wave, the one-year strict lockdown period was not utilised well. Rather, the risk-averting situation was favoured by both the Centre as well as the states. Stand-alone facilities for the production of oxygen, including its medical variant, have so far been geographically concentrated in small clusters. Thus, with a minimum of 1,224 cryogenic tankers, it was impossible to fulfil the demand for oxygen for such a large population.

Further, the allocation of oxygen amid the peak of the second wave was uneven. The Supreme Court had to step in to provide the required amount of oxygen to Delhi. In August 2020, there was a similar rise in the number of acute respiratory distress patients in Europe, but even after viewing the global trend, it is only on April 15, 2021, that the Centre declare that medical oxygen is a critical component in the treatment of Covid.

Along with inadequate logistics supply chains, other bottlenecks slowed down the health sector. Many hospitals treating Covid patients were caught up in fire accidents. Fire experts said that “overstressed” hospital systems are unable to bear the rising patient load, leading to frequent fire incidents. They said,

“Hospitals are increasing beds, equipment and staff to admit more Covid patients, but it is not possible to immediately expand the electrical wiring system. Medical equipment or wires carrying current beyond their capacity can overheat. That is what is happening in many hospitals. We don’t need just a fire audit, we also need an electrical audit.” 

Even before the outbreak of the virus, audits were not conducted properly and licenses were given out without proper inspection. Apart from this, the media also reported about oxygen tankers getting overturned, medical practitioner giving out fake medicines and harassment of patients by the nursing staff. These are long-ignored structural issues and have nothing to do with the unprecedented health emergency.

Five states witnessed Assembly elections in the last few weeks with large gatherings. Despite the pandemic, the Election Commission allowed for an eight-phase election in Bengal without announcing any Covid guidelines. Newspaper reports and TV coverage of these rallies provided an overwhelming visual evidence that masking and physical distancing were almost completely ignored. Therefore, it seems extremely likely that these events contributed to the rapid transmission of the virus and the subsequent rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.

cowin app
Why is the government delaying in giving rights to other companies to make the indigenous Covaxin?

If our political-administrative leaders had even an iota of concern for the common people, then public health measures would have been more strictly enforced during election rallies and other mass gatherings, and this man-made tragedy of an enormous proportion could have been avoided.

The ICMR was particularly silent in warning against the use of unproven medication, even as it clarified the treatment protocol for emergency use drugs such as Tocilizumab. “Misused drugs include azithromycin, doxycycline, favipiravir, Itolizumab and Coronil,” wrote Dr Anup Agarwal, lead author of ICMR’s plasma trial, for The Hindu. He added: “These are not mentioned in the guidelines, but practitioners are busily prescribing them. This may cause more harm than good.”

A delay in updating these guidelines has led doctors to continue prescribing drugs such as Hydroxychloroquine, Favipiravir and Ivermectin, which showed an early promise but were quickly found to be ineffective. It also caused a panicked scurry for antiviral drug Remdesivir, which became a popular therapy option as India’s case count kept surging past all previous records. Giving away steroids recklessly, as has been proved by rising complications after Covid recovery, can have detrimental effects as it lowers one’s immunity and increases their vulnerability to Mucormycosis.

The guidelines have not kept pace with research, perhaps because no one bothered about them during the months when the country’s first wave decelerated. An investigation by The Caravan magazine found that India’s scientific task force on Covid-19 did not meet even once in February and March even as new infections had begun to rise. After January 11, it met on April 15 for the first time to assess the Covid-19 surge, which had become unrelenting by then.

Politicians, pharmaceutical companies and other leaders are continuously contradicting their statements. For instance, Dr Harsh Vardhan replied to the letter written to the PM by Dr Manmohan Singh, saying that the Congress was spreading misinformation and promoting vaccine hesitancy. However, the same Central government, on May 1, adopted all the measures mentioned in Dr Singh’s letter.

Secondly, India is focused on asking for a patent waiver for the mRNA vaccine under the TRIPS agreement. However, it has not shown any interest in giving the technology to make Covaxin to other companies. By August 2021, Bharat Biotech can only make 7.8 crore doses of vaccine and SII can produce only 10 crore doses, whereas the approximate vaccination shots needed are more than 178 crore.

The question is, why is the government delaying in giving rights to other companies to make the indigenous Covaxin?

Currently, Covid cases are coming down, but can one of the reasons for this be the lack of testing? The data presented by the government is not the complete truth, and without any other source information, it is impossible to make accurate projections. Knowing the truth is better for both the public and policymakers to gauge the true state of the pandemic.

A flat-footed communication strategy and debilitating red-tapism that focuses on risk-aversion and indecision at the cost of efficiency is adding to the distress of India’s already severe Covid crisis. India’s obsession with being Vishwaguru, juxtaposed with its misleading analysis deriding “Povertarianism” and talking of freebies cannot be a replacement to sound welfarism, which must prioritise the majority of Indians who need a social security net.

As the saying goes, “Better late than never.” It is necessary to analyse and accept the shortcomings and rectify mistakes before the surge of the third wave.

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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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