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Please Help India

When my grandparents got COVID-19 a month ago, I felt numb.

I mean, I’d heard what they’d been blasting on media headlines. It went along the lines of: THIRD-WORLD COUNTRY DEVASTATED BY SECOND SURGE, and other attempts to portray India as a dirt-poor country that needs money from the US and other “first-world” countries to survive.

I thought that the oxygen crisis was being accentuated by the media. I thought that this was just another way of reinforcing colonizer and imperialist countries as “first-world” and incorrectly portraying India as a pitiable, poor, primitive nation.

But I don’t think the media did a good enough job of conveying what’s actually happening.

You see, my grandparents are safe to a point that would make Floridian beach-goers from the earlier stages of the pandemic faint. They don’t go out for groceries like they used to. They clean everything twice per day. They don’t even go out for a walk on the terrace.

So when we heard the news, we were all pretty surprised. They’d just gone to get their second vaccine dose--that was the suspected culprit, because where else could they have gotten it?

The next week was filled with clenched nerves and disconnected fear.

They were bedridden. Their usually pristine bed was littered with random things like pencils, tissues, and clothes. Three days in, they had to be hospitalized for pneumonia at Goa Medical College and Hospital. That’s when the scary headlines started haunting me.

What if they needed a liter of oxygen and couldn’t get it? What if? What if?

My uncle, an orthopedic surgeon at GMC, told all his coworkers on the COVID floor that those were his parents, that they needed monitoring, etc. That eased my fears a little.

But still, I couldn’t stop thinking of what could have happened--especially if I didn’t have family working at that government hospital. But for a lot of people in rural India, that’s the case. There aren’t many private, top-of-the-line facilities in rural areas. There may be a few government hospitals, but they usually require hours to get to. Those are wasted critical hours. Those are the hours that determine whether someone will live or die. And even if they make it, the government hospitals are overworked and overwhelmed right now.

My aunt told me that the COVID floor is littered with chairs because there aren’t enough beds for all the patients. Government-run facilities are funded very, very little, which contributes to a dearth of staff, money, and supplies.

My grandparents ended up being okay. But that was lucky. They’d already gotten their first dose. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if they hadn’t been ½ vaccinated.

The truth is, anyone who isn’t in the top 10% of India, anyone who can’t afford India’s private hospital healthcare, is suffering because of their country’s healthcare infrastructure.

It’s not their fault that their country spends only 1% of its GDP on funding government hospitals. It’s not their fault that their country requires state governments to cover most of the hospital expenses, resulting in poorer care for poorer states. It’s not their fault, but they have to deal with the consequences. A good government protects its constituents, and that should include healthcare. Well, the one thing India and the US have in common is that they have sucky healthcare. We should all be more like Canada. Free healthcare for all! Survival should not be pay-to-win!

But India’s decentralized healthcare infrastructure compiled with a COVID surge is resultant in imminent collapse. That’s what we’re seeing now. And “first world” countries like the US are also responsible. They stockpiled vaccines and prevented raw materials that they didn’t even NEED for THEIR vaccines being made for trade with India. They went back on their trade agreements. The US left India floundering. And even though the US stopped their raw material embargo recently, what they did permanently tipped the scale.

Government rallies during re-election campaigns and Kumbh Mela festival celebrations brought millions of people together. Modi encouraged the rallies. Because of those gatherings, it’s no surprise that a COVID wave occurred.

The US government doesn’t care about Indians, and neither does the Indian government.

My grandmother was telling me about Pramod Sawant, the chief minister of Goa. If you don’t know, Goa is a tourist hub in India. It’s like the LA or New York of the US It’s known for beaches and parties. Tourists don’t care that Goa isn’t just that. It has India’s best fishing industry, it has the oldest hospital in ALL of Asia (check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me), and it’s home to 1.8 million locals. Apparently, Pramod didn’t care about our locals and was very lax on the restrictions. He pretended everything was okay, that COVID wasn’t a big deal (sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?). My grandmother was saying that all the Chief Ministers of Goa don’t care about Goans because none of them have grown up there. None of them know the life of a local, they only pretend to know it. That why, when it comes to push and shove, they’ll choose anything to maintain their reputation in the eyes of the Chief Minister select committee versus helping their constituents.

Goa is just an example of a corrupt state government. At the beginning of the second wave, it had a positivity rate of 51% ( The overall Indian government, the one responsible for placing all financial burdens on the state governments, is part of the problem.

I don’t know how India is going to come out of this.

Everyone is dying. Every week, new people have died.

My mom’s favorite teacher, her primary school geometry teacher, died two weeks ago. Her friend’s brother-in-law is dead. My cousin’s uncle is dead. The thing about having 98% of your family (extended family, I guess, but it doesn’t feel like that) concentrated in India is that you instantly get a network of everything that’s happening socially.

Normally, that’d be stuff like people secretly dating or getting married too quickly--you know, fun gossip. Now, it’s more somber.

I hear about people my relatives know dying. I hear about people I vaguely remember from my childhood dying. I don’t feel any grief or loss, mostly because all these people fall into 2 categories: distant family friends, or distant family. I’m so lucky. I don’t have to feel the weight of all this death.

If I’d been brought up in Goa instead of the US, I would have gone to weddings and engagements and festivals and other functions every week. I would feel the weight.

I know so many of my fellow Indians feel the weight. I know Indian-American friends who have lost whole families to this disease.

For me, being Indian-American gives me this weird but strong, intrinsic connection to my country. I hear about Indians dying and it’s like an insult to my being.

I think that’s why I care so much about the oxygen crisis. It’s my people dying. I just want it to stop. I want us to be okay again.

But then the bitter realization hits: it’ll never be okay. Coming back from this will be impossible. It’ll take decades. And it’s all because of corrupt governments.

Written by: Neha Dubhashi

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