Overcoming the Oxygen Shortage in India Amidst the Covid Crisis


NEEDHAM, Massachusetts — The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be on the verge of improvement, but there has been a recent rise in cases in India. There are many factors leading to this rampant surge of infection; however, the main challenge is for India’s hospitals to acquire respirators and oxygen equipment. India is currently revolving in an endless cycle of infection and death due to the lack of availability and money for such equipment. Fortunately, a large and promising number of local organizations are helping provide more oxygen supplies and raise money for equipment. Aid from international organizations is another main factor in this crucial fight to end the oxygen shortage in India.

Causes of Recent Crisis

India has the second-largest population in the world and is home to billions of people with diverse backgrounds. As such, crowding is a major issue. The largely concentrated regions make it difficult to social distance and avoid a rapid transmission of disease during the pandemic. Scores of people are in desperate need of oxygen, but India lacks the amount equipment needed to provide relief. As a result, recent reports show a steady increase in the number of daily deaths.

Additionally, a change in social distancing guidelines in India may account for cases rising in the general population. The Hindu festival in North India as well as election rallies had an immense impact on the infection rate. India’s capital, Delhi, reported a startling 16,699 cases overnight after participation in the religious festival. On the banks of the Ganges in Uttarakhand, thousands of Indians gathered in order to practice their religious mass dipping to “wash away their sins.” However, the close proximity and urban mobility of the population during these weeks caused a massive spike in cases and may have contributed to the alarming spread.

Hemkunt Foundation

The Hemkunt Foundation, an NGO based in India, is battling against the oxygen shortage in India. The organization dispatches around 150 volunteers to respond to emergency calls. In recent weeks, it has distributed 4,200 oxygen cylinders to those in need. However, with limited supplies and nearly 15,000 calls per day, the organization is forced to supply oxygen only to those whose oxygen levels are below 88.

To combat this impediment, the NGO created a new drive-through project. The new program allows people to come in for free and inhale oxygen, saving 500 lives in the process. The necessary equipment for this project is difficult to obtain, but the foundation is working to expand its network through resources and money garnered through fundraising.

Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organization

Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organization (PESO) is another local NGO fighting against the oxygen shortage in India. This Nagpur-based organization is known for regulating the usage of explosives and gases. Its line of work does not usually cross paths with the medical side of the industry, but PESO decided to use its platform and network to aid citizens during this crisis.

Kerala, an Indian state on the Malabar Coast, is a clear benefactor from PESO’s philanthropic work. Due to PESO’s intervention in Kerala’s oxygen section, the state was able to stifle the prevalence of COVID-19 within the community, stabilize the oxygen shortage and even donate extra oxygen canisters to other states. Furthermore, Kerala has been able to donate “74 MT of liquid oxygen to Tamil Nadu and 30 MT to Karnataka daily.”

Back in 2020, PESO also helped to coordinate and organize hospitals with a capacity to store 1,000 liters of oxygen in mini-plants. This system allowed oxygen to be delivered through hospital pipelines when patients needed it. In the past few weeks, PESO directed its facilities to produce medical oxygen only. The new strategy is to focus on effectively providing oxygen for those who are without support from ventilators.

Sewa International

Sewa International is a nonprofit organization “specializing in disaster relief and rehabilitation” projects. Currently, the nonprofit is working to send oxygen concentrators to India as well as raise $5 million to overcome the oxygen shortage in India. The nonprofit also created the “Help India Defeat COVID-19” campaign to ship medical equipment and oxygen tanks to Indian hospitals.

Sewa International works closely with The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. Through this partnership and funding, the organizations have shipped 200 oxygen concentrators. With further funding, the organizations can continue to maximize positive impacts across India. Sewa’s Vice President of Disaster Recovery, Swadesh Katoch, asserts, “Sewa is building a Digital Helpdesk to provide critical information on ambulance services, hospital bed availability and blood and medicinal supplies to people.”

Indian Red Cross and Funding from Countries

The Indian Red Cross aims to provide oxygen cylinders, medicine and other medical equipment to overcome the oxygen shortage in India. However, the organization has recently faced challenges in procuring the supplies to efficiently aid India during this crisis. Thankfully, with the help of donations and contributions from other countries, it is on its way to receiving sufficient funding to support the people of India.

One country sending valued support to Indian Red Cross is Canada. The Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, announced that Canada will pledge $10 million to Indian Red Cross to fight COVID-19. Other countries as well have stepped up to aid India. Cryogenic tanks and more oxygen cylinders are being airlifted from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Vaccinations and Progress

The rate of vaccination in India for COVID-19 slowed from 4.5 million to 3 million a day. After the recent oxygen shortages in India, the country made the decision to start importing more vaccines. The hope is to reduce the infection rate and thus the need for medical oxygen. India has even decided to widen the brands of vaccines it will accept beyond Remdesivir, AstraZeneca and COVAXIN. India will now import Sputnik V from Russia and the Pfizer vaccine from the U.S.

Defeating this surge in India is imperative in order to reach a stable level of oxygen concentrations in the country. An end to this second wave of the pandemic will need vaccination as well as adequate oxygen supplies. To tackle the oxygen situation, India’s government will provide 17,000 tons of oxygen supplies to communities most affected by COVID-19. This is a promising start. With the right resources and support from different groups, the country can successfully tackle prevention as well as alleviation. Support from local and international organizations can help stop the oxygen shortage in India and put an end to this second wave of the pandemic.

Esha Kelkar
Photo: Flickr


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