India is facing a unique challenge caused by a new variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading over the country in record time. Since the beginning of April 2021, the daily caseload has more than doubled to over 350,000 newly infected people a day. What’s the response of India’s ACT-Forum? We spoke with Joseph Sahayam, the Forum convenor and representative of CASA India.
“Nobody knows in which direction the situation will develop,” states Sahayam. “Therefore, we are focusing on the immediate needs.” Those immediate needs are immense. The states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, Haryana in the north, and Madhya Pradesh in central India are all facing an oxygen shortage. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, some hospitals have put “oxygen out of stock” boards outside, and in the state capital Lucknow, hospitals have asked patients to move elsewhere. While providing hygiene equipment like masks, soap, sanitizers and gloves, the main target of the joint ACT response is to enhance the awareness of the population and break the chain of infections. In order to create a sustainable system, the Forum members will involve the communities they serve.
“Our priority are small scale holders: affected communities, and supporting people who are sick and have to be treated at home with cash to buy their medicines and other emergency needs,” explains Joseph Sahayam. “And there will probably be a gender aspect in the activities as well, because gender-based violence has increased. ”The forum is connecting with their partners, member churches and authorities. “We are currently in contact with the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and with the governments, mainly on district level”, the Forum Convenor says. “But they are too busy and at the moment just focus on the most urgent requirements as well.”
Photo: ACT Alliance
Priorities on risk communication and migrant workers
There is an urgent need to focus on prevention measures to ensure that the communities which are at risk of COVID 19 are well-educated and react properly. As the situation is so precarious, most staff are not able to move freely and follow protocols. The Forum is concentrating on enhancing the existing capacities of the communities to enable an effective community owned awareness mechanism, emphasizing the communities’ responsibility and appropriate behavior.
The interventions include information dissemination about COVID-appropriate behavior, vaccination benefits, risk mitigation, livelihoods, strengthening the working of government programs, and providing in-depth information on the economic, nutritional, physical and mental health situation.
ACT India Forum targeted internal migrant workers who lost their jobs during last year’s lockdown and provided them with food packs and technical training. The new Appeal will update the programme design based on the current context.
Campaign to get vaccinated
The fear of taking vaccinations still exists, especially in rural areas. While the country has been exporting vaccines on a grand scale, their availability in India is insufficient. The country has so far administered more than 127 million doses of a corona virus vaccine. More than 109 million people have received one dose, and over 17 million people have been fully vaccinated after receiving two doses – just a fraction of the 1.37 billion population.
Five states having more than half of all cases
For the time being, each of the nine members of the ACT India Forum is taking the same steps in their respective areas of operation. CASA India, for example, is active in 15 states, including Maharashtra which currently is one of the most affected. The other members are Christian Agency for Rural Development (CARD), Christian Aid (CA), Church of Sweden (CoS), Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), ICCO Cooperation (ICCO), Lutheran World Service India Trust (LWSIT), United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI) and the Synodical Board of Social Services / Church of North India (CNI-SBSS). Of course, every member has taken the necessary steps to protect their own staff, organizing webinars to obtain medical advice, internal discussions and more.
Call for help
There is just one thing Forum convenor Joseph Sahayam emphasizes at the end of our talk: “It’s time to unite and focus on immediate needs”. The situation in India could be a warning for the rest of the world, but also lead the way to more global solidarity.
ACT’s Forum in India is raising an appeal in the coming days. A Global Coordination Call was organised by the ACT Secretariat on Monday, 03 May 2021 to understand the needs and coordinate a timely and efficient ACT response. Please support India in this unique crisis.
For more information about the situation in India: http://stage.act.acw2.website/alerts/india-covid-19-crisis/
Photos: CASA India, SSBS-CNI