In the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, India has been facing an acute shortage of oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, and other medical requirements. In a change in its disaster aid policy, the Indian government after 16 years has opened up its gates to receive medical aid offered by several foreign nations.
According to the Indian Express, till now over 40 countries have announced medical aid to help India in coping with the current COVID-19 crisis. Out of these, the USA, UK, Russia, Ireland, Romania, Thailand, Bahrain have already sent medical consignments including oxygen cylinders, concentrators, pulse oximeters, and medicines to India.
Central Government’s Delayed Distribution of the Medical Aid
As part of the ongoing political tragedy that Indians have to deal with amidst an unprecedented health crisis, the foreign aid received by the country remained undistributed and hence unused for almost a week. The first shipment of medical supplies from Singapore arrived on April 25 and it was only on May 2 that the union government provided a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the allocation of the aid, India Today reported. The Union ministry has notified that the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), a non-governmental organization, and HLL Lifecare Limited are responsible for officially receiving and distributing it, respectively.
On April 30, the issue of proper distribution of medical aid to those who need it was raised by a reporter during the US state department briefing, who wanted “accountability for US taxpayers’ money.” The BBC questioned the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office about the whereabouts of the aid sent to India. Representatives of both of the countries responded that the process of distribution is for the Indian Government to decide and their role is limited to sending the medical aid efficiently.
The government denied the accusation of delaying the distribution of medical aid in a time when the entire nation is face to face with a shortage of most of the medical supplies. In a statement released on Tuesday, it said that the Health Ministry formed a Coordination Cell under the Additional Secretary of Health on April 26 itself and has since then been working to promptly receive, allot and distribute the aid.
Contrary to the government’s clarification about its promptness, the Scroll reported that the state officials informed that it was only on the evening of May 3, the center started the aid distribution process. It also reported that the first pack of medical assistance was received by some states as late as the morning of May 4.
Questions of Fairness and Transparency in Aid Distribution
The statement listed 31 states and union territories towards which the initial shipment of the aid has been directed. The government has informed that the material has been allotted keeping in mind “high burden states” to fulfill the immediate need. However, out of the 38 medical institutions including 33 hospitals listed in the statement, none of them are in Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in the country. The Hindu wrote that most of the aid has been forwarded towards hospitals run by the Central government.
The Union government has still not made public all the details concerning the emergency medical aid received by the country or the timeline for the further distribution of aid to other states and medical institutes struggling in the country.
Not the First Government Delay
This isn’t the first delay on the side of the Indian government in the management of the COVID 19 crisis. In mid-April, Scroll reported that it was only after eight months from when the Indian government had declared a national lockdown that it put up online tenders for setting up oxygen plants in 150 district hospitals. The same report informed that out of 162 contracts for the plants only 33 were installed according to the government and only 5 were functional, the reporters found.
The country saw high courts in several states pull the BJP ruled state as well as central governments for its complete failure to act in time and minimize the effect of the wave. It has become a daily affair for hospitals and state government in Delhi to approach the high court seeking help for oxygen shortage because the central government has been continuously unsuccessful in delivering the allotted amount of the gas citing production reasons.