India’s Massive Health Crisis Due to Covid-19 and What We Can Do to Help

People wait to vote April 15 in local elections on the outskirts of Prayagraj, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP

India is experiencing a devastating impact on its people as COVID-19 rampages through all sectors of the population. Despite previous high COVID-19 infection rates in megacities, which should have conferred some protection, the virus is spreading faster than ever before in India. Indian coronavirus infections and deaths held close to record daily highs on Monday, May 10th, 2021, increasing calls for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lock down the world’s second-most populous country.

The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India’s tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths as hospitals run out of oxygen and beds and morgues and crematoria overflow. New variants of the virus are mutating, and recent reports suggest that the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are only 45% effective.

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, India reported over 90,000 daily new COVID-19 cases at its peak, with the highest single-day record at 97,894 on September 16th, 2020. Daily case numbers then gradually declined to nearly 10,000 in early February 2021. The falling numbers ignited conversations about whether many Indians, especially those living in densely populated urban centers, might have already been exposed to the virus, thus conferring some immune defenses to prevent reinfection.

European countries such as France and Germany are also currently experiencing large outbreaks relative to their size, and other nations including Brazil are reporting high infection rates at around 70,000 a day. The spread in the United States has come down and the percentage of vaccination in the country is significant. But India’s daily totals are now some of the highest ever recorded for any country and are not far off a peak of 300,000 cases seen in the United States on January 2nd this year.

In December, India recorded its first six cases of the highly infectious B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. Between February and March, genetic testing showed that the variant became dominant in India’s northern state of Punjab, appearing in 326 of 401 sequenced viral samples. In New Delhi, B.1.1.7 was present in half the samples sequenced toward the end of March compared with 28 percent two weeks earlier.

India’s own B.1.617 variant first identified in October in Maharashtra is now present in up to 60 percent of samples from some parts of this hard-hit state. This variant is also spreading in Delhi, in addition to other parts of India and the world. While B.1.1.7 is thought to be highly transmissible and potentially more lethal than other known variants, it is still unclear how contagious B.1.617 is and if it induces severe disease. This makes it challenging to assess its role in India’s increasingly grim situation. One glimmer of hope is that Covaxin, a COVID-19 vaccine administered in India, appears to be effective against the variant, according to a recent paper posted online April 23, 2021.

But just how much variants are driving the current surge remains poorly understood. Scientists have sequenced viral genetic material from only1 percent of all COVID-19 cases recorded from January to March 2021. The scenes of suffering in India are hard to comprehend. As of May 4, more than 20·2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported, with a rolling average of 378 000 new cases per day, together with more than 222 000 deaths, which experts believe are likely to be substantial underestimates. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and health workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people, doctors and the public seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities.

The coronavirus’s second wave in India has been accompanied by packed hospital wards, oxygen shortages, and viral videos of purported cures.Photograph by Parveen Kumar / Hindustan Times / Getty

The crisis has not been equally distributed. States such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have been unprepared for the sudden spike in cases, quickly running out of medical oxygen, hospital space, and overwhelming the capacity of cremation sites, and with some state governments threatening those asking for oxygen or a hospital bed with national security laws. Others, such as Kerala and Odisha, were better prepared, and have been able to produce enough medical oxygen in this second wave to export it to other states. Many hospitals in the worst-hit parts of India house only severely ill COVID-19 patients. Some states have set up triage centers or “COVID-19 war rooms” to help prioritize patient care and hospitalization amid a grave shortage of resources.

To help in this situation there has been initiatives from all over the globe, to provide support in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators, and other medical gear, has pouring in. Many big pharma companies are pitching in and signing deals to help produce drugs which can help in the treatment of Covid-19. There is a dire vaccine shortage, extremely low oxygen and protective equipment supplies, while mass cremations are taking place. Amid calls to aid the country, the world is stepping up. For those looking for a way to contribute directly to relief efforts, there are organizations seeking donations that are providing oxygen, food, medical supplies, PPE and other forms of support to people in India.

Living in India during the Covid crisis isn't what you see from abroad, we might have gone through similar experiences, but one can only imagine what everyone is going through in a country that is the second highest populated. It has been a traumatic experience to people in India, feeling helpless in a situation where one must watch their families, friends, colleagues, a mere citizen taking their last breath to this deadly Covid-19 virus. Watching a crisis unfold in India while others stay safely indoors, seeing it all happen on screens, wishing one could step outside and help without compromising their safety and knowing they cannot. It creates waves of trauma and despair that everyone here moves through every day, a mental fog that leaves everyone feeling numb.

The past few weeks have been painful and uncertain, and the next few may be, as well. But despite everything, people have found hope in seeing the generosity and kindness being shown online as people all over the world have mobilized to help the people of India. It's a reminder that, although people in India may feel helpless right now — stuck at home, reading the news, making it through another day — they are given the sense of feeling “we're not alone”.

There are already signs that India’s outbreak is spilling over to other countries. Its neighbors Nepal and Sri Lanka have also reported increases in infections, while other regional economies including Hong Kong and Singapore have seen imported Covid cases from India. India is a major vaccine manufacturer, but the health crisis at home has led authorities to halt exports of Covid-19 vaccines as the country prioritizes its domestic needs. A delay in vaccine exports by India could therefore leave lower-income countries vulnerable to fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Bridge Point Capital, a financial firm in the healthcare space is trying to provide assistance and information to Global Pharma companies, organizations who are looking to donate into the relief funds, arrange for oxygen concentrators, ventilators and provide basic protective supplies. Having Indian team members, we together with their families back in India have personally taken initiatives to volunteer in providing basic needs, PPE supplies and oxygen concentrators to hospitals. Standing by the moto of “doing well by doing good”, BPC is looking forward to assists and help through the situation.

Just like the way Bridge Point Capital forged pivotal relationships in healthcare in China, such as with the Wenzhou “Eye Valley” hospital, BPC is currently cultivating relationships in India to help US companies penetrate its market. Some of our network is already deeply connected in the Asian market. One of our advisors, Dr. Mak Jawadekar, has worked as a senior executive within Pfizer’s Global R&D operations in the US for over 28 years.

Having worked in the healthcare space and being an Indian born, he understands the situation there really well and has been an active member in this initiative helping the BPC team to help in this space. In addition to working for Pfizer, he helped take Tonino Lamborghini brand to India. As a scientist, he was involved at the bench level in working on drug delivery & formulations of several blockbuster Pfizer Products. He is currently helping a Korean CMO, Polus Inc., to take roots in Indiana State for the manufacture of m-RNA & DNA Vaccines. With his vast global network, Mak’s Pharma & Biotech subject matter expertise & understanding of many facets of the Indian market, Bridge Point is uniquely positioned to address this moving forward.