Why India Failed | MIT Technology Review


But voices like him have been stifled by messages from the federal government suggesting that India has somehow defeated the virus. The hype was so strong that even some medical professionals bought it. “The epidemic has behaved in a very unique way in India,” a Harvard Medical School professor told the financial newspaper Mint.

“The real harm of undercounting is that people underestimate the pandemic,” Arun says. “If a few people are supposedly dying from covid, the public will think it didn’t kill and they won’t change their behavior.” In fact, by mid-December India had reached another dismal milestone: it registered its 10 millionth infection. It was the second country to do so after the USA.

Gagandeep Kang, professor of microbiology at Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, says the government didn’t use the initial quarantine wisely, but December is a chance to make things right. A set of tactics, such as speeding up the sequencing, examining public behavior, collecting more data, denying permits for super-emitter events, and launching the vaccine earlier than planned, could have saved many lives during the now inevitable second wave.

Instead, he says, the government maintains a “top-down approach,” where bureaucrats rather than scientists and health professionals decide.

“We live in a very unequal society,” he says. “Therefore, if we are to deliver information and resources effectively, we need to interact with people and build partnerships on a granular level.”

In December, the Goa government completely let its guard down. The state is heavily dependent on tourism, which accounts for about 17% of its income. Majority of the tourists show up on the beaches with raves and fireworks to celebrate Christmas and New Year in December.

Goan journalist Vivek Menezes says the state’s reputation as “the place to be” has not diminished during the pandemic. “It’s the place of India’s rich and Bollywood, and therefore India’s place,” says Menezes. The pandemic had prevented foreign tourists from visiting, but domestic vacationers flocked. Some states, such as Maharashtra, had imposed restrictions on their borders; Others, like Kerala, had a strict contact tracing policy. In Goa, visitors didn’t even need to show a negative covid test. And the government’s masking policy extended only to healthcare workers, visitors to healthcare facilities, and people showing symptoms. “Goa is left to the dogs,” Menezes says.

The world’s largest super emitter

India started 2021 by recording around 150,000 deaths. But then, in January, the government ordered the first vaccine, and that was a shockingly low amount – just 11 million doses of Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He also ordered 5.5 million doses of Covaxin, a locally developed vaccine that has yet to release efficacy data. These orders were far less than the country actually needed. Subhash Salunke, senior adviser to the independent Public Health Foundation of India, estimates that 1.4 billion doses would be required to fully vaccinate all eligible adults.

On January 28, Modi spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos. declaration He said that India “saved humanity from a great catastrophe by effectively controlling the corona”. His government then authorized Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival that draws overwhelming crowds of millions to the holy city of Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand, famous for its temples and places of pilgrimage. The state’s former prime minister was dismissed this year when he said the festival should be “symbolic” under the circumstances.

a senior politician in the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party told Indian magazine The Caravan said that the federal government has its eye on the upcoming state elections and does not want to lose the support of religious leaders. As it turns out, Kumbh wasn’t just any super emitter event – it was the world’s largest event, with 9.1 million people reported attending. the biggest “Anybody with a basic textbook on public health would tell you this is not the time,” says Kang of the super-spreader event.

It was only in January 2021 that the Indian government placed its first vaccine order after registering nearly 150,000 deaths. Even then, it was a shockingly low amount – 11 million doses of Covishield and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin for a country of 1.3 billion.

In February, public health expert Salunke, while working in an agricultural area in the western state of Maharashtra, noticed that the virus was spreading “much faster” than before. It affected entire families.

“I felt like we were dealing with an agent who had changed or seemed to have changed,” he says. “I started researching.” It has now emerged that Salunke has found a mutation of a variant that was detected in India last October. He suspected that the variant, now known as delta, was about to become widespread. He did. Currently in more than 90 countries.

“I went to everyone who was responsible and important – whether county-level officials or central-level bureaucrats, you name it. “I immediately shared this information with everyone I knew.”

Salunke’s discovery does not appear to have affected the official response. Even as the second wave accelerated and WHO identified the new mutation as “a kind of interest” on April 4, Modi continued his busy schedule ahead of the state elections in West Bengal and personally attended numerous public rallies.

At one point he proud on the size of the crowd he drew: “I see huge crowds of people from all directions… I’ve never seen such a crowd at a rally.”

“The rallies were a direct message from the leadership that the virus was gone,” says Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

The second wave filled hospitals that were rapidly depleting beds, oxygen and medicines, forcing gasping patients to stay at home and then die. parking lots, and on sidewalks. Crematoriums had to make makeshift fires to meet demand, and reports That the spilled ash had drifted so far and stained clothes a mile away. Many poor people couldn’t even pay for their funerals and immersed the bodies of their loved ones directly into the Ganges River, which washed up on shores in several states with hundreds of corpses. Alongside these apocalyptic scenes came news that deadly fungal infections were crushing covid patients, possibly as a result of lower infection control and over-reliance on steroids to treat the virus.

Chaos continues; Delta spreads

And there was Modi from the beginning. The prime minister has become the face of India’s fight against the pandemic – literally: his headshot is prominently featured on the certificate issued to people who have had their vaccinations. After the second wave, however, his early victories were ridiculed and his unpreparedness was widely ridiculed. Since then, he has largely disappeared from public view, leaving it to his colleagues to blame the blame elsewhere, particularly—and wrongly—on the government’s political opposition. As a result, Indians had to face the biggest national crisis of their lives on their own.

This abandonment created a sense of friendship among some Native American groups. many use social media and WhatsApp to help each other by sharing information about hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. They also organized in the field and distributed food to those in need.

“ [BJP] The rallies were a direct message from the leadership that the virus was gone.”

Ramanan Laxminarayan, Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy

But the leadership vacuum has also produced a huge market for top profiteers and scammers. In May, opposition politicians accused Tejaswi Surya, the leader of the ruling BJP party, of participating in a vaccine commission scam. And Goa’s health minister, Vishwajit Rane, has had to deny allegations that he was involved in a scam involving the purchase of ventilators. Even PM Cares, the prime minister’s signature covid relief fund, came under fire after spending 2,250 crore (over $300 million) on 60,000 ventilators that doctors later complained were malfunctioning and “It’s too risky to use.” The fund, which raised at least $423 million in donations, also raised concerns about corruption and lack of transparency.

A successful vaccination agenda might have helped erase the memory of a series of missteps, but under Modi, it was just one technocratic mistake after another. At the end of May, the government announced plans to start mixing doses of different types of vaccines, as it had far less vaccines than needed. And at the height of the second wave, it introduced Co-WIN, an online booking system that is mandatory for anyone under 45 trying to get vaccinated. system, under scrutiny for months., disaster struck: not only did it automatically exclude those who did not use computers and smartphones, but were also struck by insects and suffocated by people in need of protection.


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