India is currently facing a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, with cases exceeding 300,000 per day in the past week and deaths exceeding 2,000 per day. Hospitals, burial grounds and crematoriums are currently overwhelmed as supplies become increasingly limited.
The number of poor individuals in India has increased by an estimated 75 million due to the COVID-19 recession, while the number of individuals in the middle class has decreased by an estimated 32 million, according to the Pew Research Center.
Jaya Satagopan, professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health and director of the Center for South Asian Quantitative Health & Education, said the crisis is having adverse effects on both human and economic health, as India is a major hub for global economic activities.
“India is … a major pharmaceutical manufacturing hub, including vaccine manufacturing,” she said. “The ongoing COVID-19 crisis can have (a) broader impact on businesses and health worldwide.”
India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, with more than 66 million doses being exported from the country. Yet, only 1.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Amy Davidow, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said India’s leadership needs to look at epidemiology to create a plan going forward, with high-technology solutions such as vaccinations and low-technology solutions such as masks and shields for hospital workers.
She said the structure of the healthcare system in India is also a contributing factor to the crisis.
“The healthcare system in India, like a lot of places, which don’t have universal healthcare, is a patchwork of private and public providers. And that patchwork has been used to address a problem in India prior to COVID-19,” she said. “There was an emphasis of public-private partnerships to try and identify people with (diseases) and get them the treatment and have them complete the treatment.”
India’s current healthcare system is faltering, Satagopan said. The country is suffering from a lack of resources, including hospital beds and oxygen supplies at medical facilities.
Davidow said another current threat that the country faces is the rise in mass gatherings, including religious festivities and political campaigns due to an election occurring in the state of West Bengal.
“They need to really discourage mass gatherings, whether it be for religious or political purposes, while we wait for more people to get vaccinated,” she said. ”They need to look at the epidemiology to try and figure out … where to focus the vaccination because there … need to be priority groups. With a public-private mix, I think it’s very difficult to figure out how to have an organized rollout.”
Satagopan said a crisis like this warrants a global response and that countries should be prepared to offer assistance, as India cannot handle the crisis on its own.
“Mitigation of the current crisis needs (a) strong partnership between science, society and policy, adherence to scientific recommendations such as (the) use of masks, significant increase in vaccinations, availability of more health supplies and more multi-sector planning,” she said. “For mitigation in the long-term, we must constantly monitor that all aspects of the ecosystem are working well, emergency health response systems must be assessed through regular drills so that we catch any issue before it escalates into a crisis.”