India is currently in the midst of a deadly surge of COVID-19 infections that has left the country devastated as the death toll mounts and hospitals are beyond capacity. Daily cases have crossed the record-breaking threshold of 350,000 a day. India has witnessed more than 219,000 deaths by the beginning of May, according to The New York Times, though experts are saying that the actual figures are much higher.
The country is experiencing major shortages of medical supplies like lifesaving oxygen ventilators and Indian healthcare providers are struggling to cope with the massive influx of new COVID-19 patients. In addition, misinformation is rampant in the subcontinent, as fake news stories, conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated information continues to circulate, causing unnecessary anxiety and complicating the country’s fight against the pandemic.
Amid the devastation, the Israeli government has promised to stand by its longtime ally during difficult times. On Tuesday, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced that it has begun a comprehensive delivery of medical equipment to the country through a series of flights scheduled throughout the week. The assistance package includes thousands of group and individual oxygen generators, respirators, medications, and other medical equipment.
Various Israeli ministries and divisions contributed to the transfer of aid, including the Israel-India Chamber of Commerce and Start-Up Nation Central, among others. Israeli software solutions company Amdocs also announced a donation of 150 oxygen generators, which will be transferred to India as part of the Israeli aid package. The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) relief organization has said it will also donate oxygen generators and other needed equipment.
Israel-based humanitarian aid groups have also joined the efforts to find ways to manage logistics and distribute relief to the COVID-ravaged country.
IsraAID, the global humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization, is currently working with around four million Indian residents to provide emergency relief and address medical equipment and supply shortages in 20 government-run hospitals of the largely rural area of Palghar, a district just north of Mumbai. The organization is working at the request of the District Government of Palghar and together with local partners Gabriel Project Mumbai, Ethan Schwartz, IsraAID’s Media & Communications Manager, tells NoCamels.
“Immediate needs include oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, stethoscopes, thermometers and more,” Schwartz says. “Together with our local partners, we are working to both source supplies in India and dispatch equipment to India in the coming days.”
IsraAID is also working with Indian and Israeli partners, like the India-Israel Institute at Tel Aviv University, to explore ways to bring Israeli technological solutions to support healthcare providers as they manage the soaring number of COVID-19 cases. Examples include data management, logistics, and new Israeli medical supply technologies, depending on the needs on the ground, Schwartz explains.
As case numbers spiral and families across the country become affected by the pandemic’s second wave, “there is a clear need to address to address the growing mental health crisis coming fast on the heels of the current wave of infections,” says Schwartz. At the request of their local partners, IsraAID says it will provide training for frontline workers in self-care, psychological first aid, and psychosocial support.
“It’s an approach we call ‘helping the helpers’. We’ve seen in our experiences worldwide during this pandemic – and previously in our response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone – just how crucial frontline workers are to ensuring community resilience and recovery during and after a medical crisis,” says Schwartz.
“As an Israeli humanitarian aid organization, it is important to us to leverage Israeli expertise in our work, both during emergencies and together with communities as they recover for the long-term,” he adds.
IsraAID, with the help of their local and international partners, including AJC (American Jewish Committee), the Ted Arison Family Foundation and UJA-Federation of New York, have so far responded to COVID-19 in 18 countries including South Africa, China, the UK, and Eswatini (commonly known as Swaziland). These countries not only experienced an immediate health crisis, but also a broader social crisis, which includes child protection risks, mental health needs, domestic violence, and even lack of access to safe water, IsraAID indicated.
“We’ve seen and heard just how severe the situation is in India right now, both in terms of the rising case numbers that have passed 400,000 new infections in recent days and in terms of the wider human impact of the pandemic. As with any emergency, it is vital to start planning for the long and difficult recovery process from the very start, together with affected communities. IsraAID will work together with our partners on the ground to assess the situation and provide whatever help we can to communities as they recover and look towards the future,” Schwartz tells NoCamels.
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“The scale of the crisis currently unfolding in India is simply overwhelming. We have ongoing partnerships on-the-ground in India and we look forward to working side-by-side with Indian organizations to both respond to this emergency and prepare for the future,” said Yotam Polizer, CEO of IsraAID, at the start of the mission “With life in Israel returning to a pre-pandemic ‘normal,’ it is crucial to remember our shared responsibility to partner with communities facing the worst of it. The pandemic will not be over for anybody until it is over for everybody.”
IsraAID was founded in 2001 by Mully Dor, Shachar Zahavi and Meira Aboulafia with the purpose of bringing together Israeli and Jewish aid organizations with expertise in the fields required to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of a disaster. The organization has, over the years, worked in some 55 countries providing aid and relief, as well as long-term development settings, following hurricanes, earthquakes, cyclones, and other natural disasters.
IsraAID launched an emergency appeal for those who want to help improve India’s COVID-19 response. To donate, head to the IsraAID Emergency Response Fund.
SmartAID, the international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization established in 2017 by IsraAID co-founder Shachar Zahavi, specializes in bringing in technological solutions to aid populations in crisis.
“We still do humanitarian aid, if there are basics, but we prefer to focus our vision and our focus is to make sure that technology comes first. When you talk about technology, there are levels. You’re not going to bring in the best top high-end equipment from the West to the poorest regions of the world, because there are also white elephants in that realm. If they don’t know how to use it, and they can’t use it, there’s no point in bringing it. You have the technology itself, and you have to know how to adapt it to the culture” Zahavi tells NoCamels, “So it’s all about bridging the gap.”
In India, SmartAID is looking to help tackle logistics management issues in various parts of the country. The idea, says Zahavi, is to bring logistics management to local and national aid groups who are absorbing hundreds of tons of medical aid and need help to properly manage it. SmartAID and their partners aim to find Israeli companies to help with software and guidance.
“It’s not only how can we provide direct aid, it’s also how can we provide support to these non-profits and hospitals to manage other aid that’s coming in from other international resources in a way that doesn’t stretch their capacity,” Zahavi says, “As you saw in Israel, hospitals in the midst of corona[virus] also didn’t know how to deal with anything except treating patients. So we’ve been talking to various software companies in Israel and the US to integrate how use software and logistics to track shipments and other things.”
Zahavi tells NoCamels that the first shipment from SmartAID to India is going to be 200 oxygen concentrators to hospitals in major “hot zones” across New Delhi and that they are looking to expand this shipment. The oxygen concentrators were purchased in the US and Asia with the help of SmartAID partners The Ted Arison Family Foundation and DHL Global, Zahavi indicates.
The first concentrators will go to a large COVID ward in Sharda Hospital, a state-of-the-art specialty hospital located in the city of Greater Noida in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, says Zahavi. “Concentrators will also go to some non-profits treating patients on the outskirts of Delhi,” he adds.
SmartAID is also exploring technological solutions to help handle the spread of false news stories and misinformation related to coronavirus and the COVID vaccine.
“There are now a few local and national groups in India that we’re in touch with. Through regional digital divide programs, we are working with them on how to handle this misinformation. They are trying to build education programs on how to counter this misinformation,” Zahavi tells NoCamels.
“The idea is how can we help integrate proper data through cell phones and different media channels in the more rural areas on the importance of getting the vaccine and properly using hand sanitizers and masks,” he adds.