Hospitals in India are turning patients away and COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. But Prime Minister Modi is on the campaign trail and ignoring the crisis.

  • In the last week, India has topped 2,000 deaths per day from COVID-19. 
  • Oxygen and drugs to help with acute COVID cases are running out and hospitals are overcrowded. 
  • Meanwhile, Modi is focusing on campaigning for elections instead of focusing on the current crisis. 
  • Peony Hirwani is a culture and political journalist.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s time to be very blunt. My nation of India is suffocating due to the surge in COVID cases that has the entire nation’s health framework disintegrating. Everyday, we pick up the morning newspaper just to discover that hundreds of people have died, and hospitals are running out of beds, medicine, and oxygen tanks. 

India is just over two months into this unparalleled health and economic crisis, and the time has come to evaluate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) reaction to this deadly disaster. 

Drug prices are soaring

Not long ago, the Indian government was praising itself on playing the role of the “pharmacy of the world” by supplying drugs to more than 130 countries. In 2020, Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretary General Vladimir Norov said: “India has become the world’s largest producer of generic medicines, accounting for 20% of the total global production, and meeting 62% of the global demand for vaccines.” 

It’s amusing in light of the fact that less than a year later, the antiviral drug remdesivir is still the most sought after medicine to treat acute COVID-19 in my country. Several other key COVID-related medications are running low too, posing a challenge for everyone.

To add to the existing crisis, there’s an exploding black market where pharmaceutical vendors are selling these medications at six times the actual price โ€” something which the underprivileged cannot afford. 

“A number of my maternal aunts had to resort to powerful over-the-counter medication when certain hospital-led medications were doing nothing, or the anti-inflammatory drugs took so long to order the family had to go to the black market,” a citizen named Saurav Dutt told Insider. 

He added: “This has been happening over the last month in particular, drugs that cost $20 are going for $200.”

Another citizen, Bharat Paliwal, told Insider: “I own a small photocopy shop, and my asthmatic wife is infected by COVID-19. She’s admitted at a hospital where she’s being forced to share her bed with another COVID patient.”

“Even after paying a ridiculous amount for a bed which isn’t even my wife’s personal bed, the hospital informed us that we will have to additionally arrange our own oxygen tanks and injections as they’ve run out of stock,” Paliwal added.

Simultaneously, BJP leaders were holding an oxygen tanker containing 30,000 tonnes (33,069 tons) of clinical oxygen for two hours for photo-ops. 

According to reports, chief minister of the Indian state Maharashtra, Uddhav Thacheray, tried to speak to Modi about the severe oxygen shortage in the state, but was unable to get through to him because the leader was busy campaigning for elections in West Bengal.

Modi’s misplaced priorities

It is baffling how the prime minister’s main focus is the elections and not the pandemic. Those who need urgent medication and oxygen do not have the luxury to wait for the leader of this country to return back from his rally. A senior congress leader, P. Chidambaram, likewise lashed out at Modi stating that he should be on his desk coordinating with the state governments instead of campaigning for elections. 

“Why did the prime minister and his team ignore the fact that oxygen supply will become critical when the numbers double? They had a whole year to prepare for the second wave,” he said. And I couldn’t agree more. After facing so many deaths last year, it is very careless of the government and Modi to not be ready for this phase.

Private citizens are doing more for the country than the government. Many individuals have created lists and guides of the number of hospital beds, oxygen tanks, and injections available in their respective states to help the populace reach the right doctors and hospitals during an emergency. This kind of information could’ve been easily provided by the government on the country’s COVID tracing Aarogya Setu App, which is currently being accessed by millions of people. However, they didn’t pay enough attention to even think about such a solution.

On April 17, a journalist in India named Vinay Srivastava died while live-tweeting his deteriorating oxygen levels in a desperate search for medical help. The guard at his local hospital didn’t let him in due to issues with his documentation. He posted an image to Twitter of a pulse oximeter reading 31 with the caption: “Now my oxygen is 31 when some will come.” He died shortly after.

“I lost my father to this disease. I really think he would be alive if the hospitals had just let him in,” said Shrushti, a 20-year-old living in Maharashtra. “We were begging the security guards and nurses as they could watch my dad gasping and losing air and life from his body. However, it was too late by the time they let us in.”

“The worst part was that my family couldn’t even find a place in the crematorium two days after my father had passed away,” she added. 

Modi’s government has failed 

The overall management of this emergency has been horrendous. In fact, I would say that there’s no management at all. If the government had paid half the attention they’re paying to elections to this crisis, we wouldn’t be facing  a shortage of medication and oxygen for critical patients โ€” at the very least. Additionally, due to this situation, people of other developing nations who have been depending on drugs from India will now have to wait longer for their jabs. 

India’s health crisis has put numerous lives in danger and hindered the cycle of worldwide recuperation from this destructive virus. If correct protocols are still not followed in the nation, soon we won’t have anything left to fight for. 

It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Modi government has failed India in a critical hour of need. While India has passed 300,000 COVID cases in a single day, the BJP is focussing on conducting enormous rallies with huge crowds in West Bengal. Right now, the best thing the government can do is prioritize the pandemic instead of elections. Every politician needs to be on their desk communicating with hospitals and arranging adequate medication for those who are unwell.

They have totally abandoned their duty to control the situation and find solutions for the health crisis. So far, we have had 16.2 million positive cases and approximately 186,000 deaths โ€” and that’s just the officially-noted cases. It’s hard to imagine exactly how many people are unofficially infected in India right now.

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