How the Church Can Take the Lead in India’s COVID-19 Crisis

Globally, the fight against COVID-19 is far from over as new variants continue to emerge and nations struggle to keep infection rates low and get the public vaccinated. The situation is especially dire in India, where a second wave has overrun hospitals and healthcare workers, leading to a heartbreaking death toll and no end in sight.

Health experts are monitoring India’s COVID surge closely, warning that the longer it continues, the greater the likelihood of a mutant strain that may prove resistant to current vaccines. “If we don’t help in India, I worry about an explosion of cases” around the world, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told CNN.

World Vision India is on the ground, assisting the government response by helping secure and distribute personal protective equipment, surgical masks and sanitizer, and helping provide vulnerable families with cash and voucher assistance so that they can buy food. The work comes at a huge risk, as World Vision staffers themselves are contracting the virus and a few have lost their lives to it.

RELEVANT Senior Editor Tyler Huckabee spoke with Franklin Jones, head of Disaster Management for World Vision India. He was frank about the many challenges — physical, emotional and otherwise — being faced by the team and asked for support both financial and spiritual. You can donate to World Vision India’s COVID relief efforts here, and there’s a helpful breakdown of just how far your donation will go.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

We here in the US have heard a little bit about what’s been happening in India, but could you give me a snapshot of what you all are seeing on the ground?

Franklin: Compared to the first wave of COVID, the second wave seems to be very devastating here in India. The infection rate is increasing day by day, there is no space in the hospital, there are no beds available. There’s an acute shortage of medical oxygen. The hospitals are not able to take critical patients. The funeral grounds are kind of full in most of the states. And there’s a lack of lifesaving medicines and injections which are needed. 

And adding to this, which we also saw in the past wave last year, is the migrant laborers who come from different states. They go to different states in the search of their livelihood. They started going back to their native states and villages. They were a little apprehensive about the lockdown situation, which they anticipated, and that’s where they have gone back. The local community there will feel the burden of the migrant community coming back to the villages and the migrant community won’t have any livelihood options once they go there. 

Overall, the situation as of now, there’s a lot of panic mode among people. The government is trying to stabilize the supply of oxygen to the hospitals, but we heard yesterday in one of the hospitals around 20 patients died because the hospital could not get more oxygen. Assaults are happening in different pockets in the country. The situation is still challenging for our country.

You mentioned that you see people getting into a panic mode with regards to this. What are some of the other emotions you’re perceiving?

The first wave, what was happening is maybe in a family, a single person was affected or maybe maximum, two. But now in the second wave, what is happening is as soon as one person is getting infected, the whole family is getting it. So, the panic is because of that one. Some of them that had lost their jobs, they have lost their near and dear. When it comes to death, it’s like people are able to see more death in the second wave.

Emotions are very high. People have anxiety about losing their dear ones, about their livelihood. And the uncertainty, which is there. It is a big challenge which people are facing now.

Can you tell me a little bit about the work that you and your team are doing over there in the middle of all of this?

World Vision India has development projects in 128 different districts in India. Our strength is that we are in the community.. We focused on strengthening the need for the government health systems, where we restock their medical supplies with masks, sanitizer, hand gloves, PPE kits and other sanitation materials.

First phase, it was for the awareness around the COVID protocol. Now, for the second phase, the vaccine drive is on. The government has requested that we get into vaccine awareness. Also, the recent challenge we have in our country is a lack of beds in the hospitals, the oxygen and all that. So world Vision is in plan to provide some of these where there’s a serious gap, to take these facilities to the more needy people in the communities.

Most of our projects are in the rural area. There are hospitals where they don’t have space to add more beds, so World Vision would be creating facilities where additional beds can be set up. Plus in all the communities where we serve, we will be looking at awareness for the COVID behavioral protocols and the vaccine awareness as of now. And we have been focusing on the livelihood needs of the community people.

The families who have lost their livelihood options are struggling, so we started supporting them with livelihood options so that they can bounce back to normal. 

Our primary focus is children. We make sure that the promises which were made to the families and the children in the community, we are there for them. In the first phase, we were able to see that children are getting affected because of the psychological toll of continuous lockdown. There were challenges around food security. All this was impacting the children a lot. So in our interventions, we were able to deal with the anxiety among the children, wherever there was a need.

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But the second phase, what we are also able to see is a lot of our staff are also getting infected. As I speak to you, more than one hundred staff are infected. Some of them are admitted in the hospital in critical condition, and last week we lost two of our colleagues because of the COVID infection. And most of the staff, because they are not able to get admission in the hospital. They are home quarantined, and our doctor in our team, he’s providing all the support. It’s a big task managing almost a hundred colleagues, the team members and their families. 

I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how I understand that this work can be just enormously exhausting, emotionally, mentally, physically of course, in addition to the health risks. How do you feel like the team over there is doing?

When it comes to World Vision, it’s the passion which drives us and the love of Christ, which we share with the people. So, we make sure that we are there, but at the same time, the organization ensures that the staff are safe and secure. And that’s where they do the best in reaching out to the staff to address their emotional needs, their spiritual needs, make sure that the staff, they are not burned out, they’re not exhausted. 

The people who listen to this over here are going to want to know how they can help World Vision? Where they can give, and of course, how they can pray for you all. 

World Vision India really needs people to support. Not just with the resources, but yes, your prayers would mean a lot to us. Pray that the people, especially the spirit of panic in people, they would come out of that. God’s peace and comfort would stay on them. And pray that the political parties rise above all these political agendas, and they would come together to address the challenge. As India has rolled out its vaccination program also, pray that there will be fair and equitable distribution of vaccines to all the people in the country. And especially pray for the frontline workers, doctors, paramedics, nurses, law and other staff who are working day and night. Some of them are really burned out. Some of them have lost their lives in this service. 

Pray for their families, that God should protect them as they serve the infected, sick and needy people over there. And also pray for the community people. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see them in desperate situations. They see their relatives and dear ones in the ambulance, running from one hospital to another hospital, sometimes getting fixed on the roadside, seeing them dying in front of them, it’s really heartbreaking. And just pray that God’s comfort would be with them, and somehow God would do this miracle in this country and the healing will be upon this nation. 

Pray for the children. The adults, they can express what they are going through. But the most difficult part for us as we deal with children is when they are helpless, they are not able to share the emotion, what they are going through. Losing their parents, losing their siblings, losing their friends. It’s really a big heartbreaking thing for anyone who works with them. Pray that these children, that they would have a better future. 

And also pray for World Vision as they respond, that God would protect all our staff, our frontline staff, who are in the field. Staff work, particularly the ill staff who need hospitalization and they’re not able to get. That God would heal them, God would protect them, so that the trust which we have in our God would be sent in and we’ll be able to do more for the call which we have upon us.

You can donate to World Vision India here.

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