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Responding to India's Second Wave of COVID-19

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After reporting a dramatic drop in caseloads at the start of 2021, in recent weeks India has been overwhelmed by a devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country has recorded more than more than 28.5 million cases and 340,000 deaths, but experts say the real death toll may be several times higher. Much global attention has been on the Delta variant of COVID-19 identified in the country (and now detected in many other countries worldwide, including the UK, the USA, Singapore and Germany), which appears to spread more easily than other variants, potentially contributing to the rate of infection.

So far just over 44.4 million people in India (about 3.3% of the population) are now fully vaccinated. Several states have taken localized measures to control the spread of the virus, including night curfews, partial closures and week-long lockdowns. Yet surging cases have put immense pressure on the country’s healthcare system, leading to shortages in medical oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds, as well as a strain on existing PPE resources.

At Johnson & Johnson, we have been working with partners in India to respond to bring valuable aid where it is urgently needed and maximize our impact on the ground. As part of our COVID-19 response, the Johnson & Johnson Foundation and the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies are supporting existing partners such as Americares and the Indian Red Cross Society Bel Air Hospital as well as nurturing new relationships including with the Philips Foundation and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum across three key strategies: extending facilities, supporting healthcare workers and preparing communities.

Additionally, we have also set up match funding for donations by Johnson & Johnson employees across the globe who are contributing towards COVID-19 relief efforts in India.

Providing access to oxygen concentrators and ventilators

The scale and scope of India’s second wave of the virus has led to a surge in demand for oxygen concentrators nationwide, driving costs dramatically upwards. Due to the country’s scale, timely transportation of oxygen concentrators is an additional challenge.

We have partnered with Americares to acquire 503 units of 10-liter oxygen concentrators, going to 46 hospitals across 10 Indian states. Americares has long-term relationships with suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and government, enabling them to source concentrators at speed and navigate significant pressures at the importation stage.

Through the Philips Foundation, we are making ventilators available for India and shipped to the Indian Red Cross for distribution by the Indian government to public hospitals. Once there, the Philips Foundation will train medical staff on the deployment of the ventilators, including the instalment and maintenance of the devices, to help both with sustainable support for COVID 19 patients now and with other respiratory diseases in the future.

Supporting frontline health workers

Across the world, frontline health workers are exhausted by carrying the burden of COVID-19 for over a year. In India, the situation is no different; health workers have been taking care of hundreds of patients while dealing with a shortage of necessary equipment and human resources, causing severe stress and anxiety. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been focusing on supporting healthcare workers on the ground in India with a two-strand approach: building capacity with essential equipment and increasing protection with PPE. We have worked with Americares to donate essential PPE to health workers in seven hospitals in Mumbai and Pune, including: 850,000 units of 3-ply masks; 77,500 units of N95 masks; 12,000 units of hand sanitizers; and 131,500 units of PPE clothing.

Preventative education is also a vital part of Americares’ COVID-19 response, with the team reaching out into communities via mobile technology to educate citizens on the importance of wearing masks and getting vaccinated, and of where to go for support and vital care.

“The COVID-19 crisis in India is far beyond what anyone has ever experienced, occurring as an unprecedented surge on an enormous scale,” says Katsura Tsuno, Director, Asia Pacific, Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson. “In this emergency phase we are trying our best to meet the critical needs of those saving lives and to support frontline health workers who are working 24/7 to help all those affected. We will continue to work towards long-term recovery efforts in India, working with our partners to support the country’s primary health system and the frontline health workers that have been highly impacted by the current crisis.”