(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rezaul H Laskar)
The US is rushing supplies worth more than $100 million, including oxygen generation systems and raw materials for vaccines, to back India’s Covid-19 response in the face of a devastating second wave of Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections.
The first emergency relief shipment, which is expected to arrive in India on a US military transport aircraft from Travis Air Force Base, will include 440 oxygen cylinders and regulators donated by the state of California. The flight will also carry 960,000 rapid diagnostic tests and 100,000 N95 masks provided by USAID.
“Thanks to @US_TRANSCOM, @AirMobilityCmd, @Travis60AMW & @DLAmil for hustling to prepare critical @USAID medical supplies for shipping. As I’ve said, we’re committed to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support India’s frontline healthcare workers,” US defense secretary Lloyd Austin tweeted on Thursday.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” the White House said in a statement. The aid is being provided in line with a pledge made by President Joe Biden during a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 26. Several more flights carrying more equipment and supplies are expected this week.
The US relief supplies will start flowing in shortly after support packages from Russia and member states of the European Union (EU), as part of a global effort to help India cope with record-breaking infections that have surged past the 300,000-mark over the past few days. The support will also help address a severe shortage of oxygen, which has been blamed for many deaths in recent days.
The emergency assistance coming from the US this week will include an initial delivery of 1,100 oxygen cylinders that will remain in India, 1,700 oxygen concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air, multiple large-scale oxygen generation units to support up to 20 patients each and additional mobile units to target specific shortages. A team of US experts will support the oxygen generation units by working on the ground alongside Indian personnel.
The support package will also include raw materials for making the Covishield vaccine that the US has re-directed from its own order of manufacturing supplies. These materials will allow India to make more than 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, the White House statement said.
The US is also sending 15 million N95 masks to protect patients and healthcare personnel, one million rapid diagnostic tests of the same type used by the White House to provide reliable results in less than 15 minutes, and the first tranche of a planned 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug Remdesivir.
The US also plans to send more planeloads of oxygen cylinders. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has locally procured more cylinders and will deliver them to support hospitals in India.
CDC experts will work with Indian experts in laboratory, surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modelling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication, the White House said.
The USAID, which has provided India more than $23 million in assistance since the start of the pandemic, is procuring 1,000 oxygen concentrators that will be used in 320 primary healthcare facilities.
The US aid effort was mobilised after growing domestic pressure on the Biden administration, including from lawmakers and business lobbies, over the past week to help India’s Covid-19 response. The US has also faced criticism from some quarters for what was seen as a lethargic response in the initial stages.