As the second wave of COVID-19 spiked in India, foreign aid poured in from many countries - oxygen generation plants, concentrators and cylinders, masks, ventilators, bedside medical equipment, and Remdesivir injections. But this was not equitably distributed across Indian states, The Quint has gathered.
This story is the second in a three-part series on the elusive COVID-19 foreign aid. The first story can be read here.
Talking on the go while tending to boxes filled with medical supplies, a National Health Mission officer said, “This is Maharashtra. We are not ready to beg before the Centre”. In reference was the foreign aid consignment which the state was expected to receive from the Union government in the first two weeks of May.
Aid Stuck, States Ignored
Bulk of the foreign aid due to the state is still stuck in the distribution pipeline, even as Maharashtra officials tried to hold their head high amid the crisis. For over 2,300 hospitals in the state, the National Health Mission has received just 190 ventilators and 500 oxygen cylinders – a fraction of what the state needs as aid.
Maharashtra had also asked the Centre to send Remdesivir and Amphotericin-B vials, the latter having emerged crucial in fighting the ‘black fungus’ Covid complication. Both drugs were part of aid packages sent by various foreign countries in April and May this year.
While Maharashtra can be resilient, the story is different for Jharkhand. The state's Minister for Health, Banna Gupta, told The Quint, “The Centre has ignored this poor state. We have got next to nothing from the Centre. We have asked them for help but have not even got a fraction of the foreign aid that came in”.
As per the state’s records Jharkhand has received 90 ventilators, 90 oxygen cylinders, 150 oxygen concentrators and 3,200 Remdesivir vials. The state has also received 212 BiPAP machines. There are 343 government hospitals in the state which require supplies.
Hospitals Reel Under Shortage
The Quint reached out to some of the hospitals which were expected to receive aid. Most confirmed that they have not received either medical equipment, or critical drugs.
For instance, an intern doctor at MGM Hospital in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, hospitalised for over two weeks as he contracted COVID-19, needed Remdesivir for his treatment. The hospital did not have it in stock. “We did not receive help either from the state government or the Central government’s foreign aid pool. We had to procure it from private companies,” a senior doctor at the hospital said.
The intern received Remdesivir after a week-long wait, but he is yet to get Amphotericine-B to treat his mucormycosis or black fungus. He was shifted to MIMSR Medical College, Latur for treatment. This hospital too has not received foreign aid from the Centre, The Quint has gathered. “We need help from other countries because stocks are not available with Indian manufacturers,” a senior doctor at MIMSR, Latur, rued.
Meanwhile, a government hospital in Nanded, where three doctors are infected with COVID-19, has placed an order for 7,000 Remdesivir vials. “The state has not been able to help even though we specifically asked for a foreign aid consignment, as that will help us keep the budget low,” a doctor at the facility said.
The Nanded hospital has not yet received even a reply to their request letter.
According to a senior doctor who has worked at three government hospitals in the state, the bulk of the foreign aid was sent to government medical institutions in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. “Hospitals in rural Maharashtra were ignored as the foreign aid which the state has received from the Centre is not enough for equitable distribution,” the doctor explained.
In Jharkhand, Even Ministers Can’t Help
Minister of Health, Banna Gupta said that the state had specifically asked for 1,200 ventilators from the Central foreign aid pool but was given 90. While the state asked for two lakh N-95 masks it was given 90,000, he said. “The Centre should explain why the aid has not reached us,” he said.
The minister further stated that he had made a personal enquiry regarding the status of the foreign aid.
“I was not told why the state has not received aid yet. This is sheer neglect,” Gupta complained.
The state requires oxygen plants which have not been sanctioned yet, even from the foreign aid, the minister said.
“It can be said that the state has clearly not received even a fraction of the aid which the Centre has received from foreign countries,” Gupta confirmed. A senior doctor at Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi told The Quint that the institute, which is one of the biggest in the state, has not received any foreign aid.
“We have written to the health department for foreign aid allocation. We have not yet received a reply,” the doctor said.
Meanwhile, The Hindu has reported that 40 lakh items of foreign aid was distributed to 38 institutions in 31 states and Union Territories.
An investigation by the Reporter’s Collective, however, has found that 3.05 lakh items of the 57.69 lakh received as aid were still stuck in transit.
(With inputs from Ritvik Bhalekar of The Quint)