There is something especially soul-crushing about being a doctor and not being able to help. You feel like you have everything, but you can do nothing.
The most disheartening thing is we have the knowledge, we have the power, but we still feel helpless. We can’t help someone who is suffering, even dying, from COVID-19 to get a bed, or get oxygen. It’s a terrible feeling to be a doctor at this point of time and not being able to find a hospital bed, even for your loved ones.
The second wave of COVID-19 in India has been like nothing we’ve ever seen before. I’m an infectious diseases specialist. I’ve seen outbreaks of tuberculosis, HIV and other very dangerous diseases. The difference here is that we just haven’t had time to prepare for the huge scale, the number and the seriousness of cases. It’s terrifying.
Hospital beds now have waiting lists. Each one has as many as 75 patients waiting for it. That has been the reality for the past two or three weeks all across India. And there’s a massive shortage of oxygen. Hospitals all over the country are crying out for oxygen. Beds with ventilators are a distant dream.
Only a small number of those who are infected can even get into a hospital. There’s no room for them. Even those who are very sick are waiting outside, they’re in ambulances, they’re on the street, or they’re dying at home.
This second wave is different from the first. People are getting sicker faster and once they reach hospital it’s too late. And it’s all about oxygen. It is not just COVID that is killing people, it is a lack of the most basic essential, oxygen. That’s what is fuelling the crisis at this point.
Everywhere, morale is low. We are devastated and we don’t know what will happen over the weeks ahead. That’s something we don’t have an answer for at this point in time.
Up until now, COVID-19 has mainly affected India’s big cities, and that’s what everyone has been seeing in the news. But I’m very frightened about what could happen to the rural population, as the disease starts spreading there. That’s the next ticking time bomb. We’re starting to hear about more and more cases from villages in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana.
Once the demand for healthcare really increases in those rural areas, that’s where the real crisis is. They don’t have the facilities to cope. They don’t have hospitals, doctors, nurses. They definitely don’t have oxygen supplies. In some places there are only traditional healers. Sometimes there are health workers, but they have no facilities. A serious crisis unfolding in the rural areas is only a matter of time.
And when that crisis does hit, World Vision will be there. We have a history of being in the right place at the right time, to help those most in need, in India and around the world. And as the need increases in the rural and poorer parts of my country, that’s where we will be.
Dr Carel Joseph is Director of Health at World Vision India. He is a public health and infectious diseases expert, who has consulted for the World Health Organisation and the United Nations.