Responding to India’s Second Wave
Narendra Shah (on right), Director, Bayer Vapi Pvt. Ltd. handing over the ownership of an Oxygen Plant set up by Bayer for Haria L.G. Rotary Hospital, a local hospital in Vapi, Gujarat, India
As a deadly second wave of COVID-19 surges in India, Bayer is extending its pandemic relief measures to local communities, frontline workers, farmers, businesses, and employees. To address shortages of medical-grade oxygen in hospitals, the company repurposed an existing nitrogen plant at its Vapi site in Gujarat to provide a permanent source of oxygen supply to a local hospital. And in addition to donations of masks and essential supplies, Bayer is sponsoring a mobile van to provide COVID-19 related healthcare services to rural smallholder farmers as well as providing mental health support to frontline workers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India now accounts for 1 in every 3 new cases globally. The human toll is devastating: India recorded more than 400,000 daily new cases on May 6 — the largest single-day spike in the world. And there appears to be little relief in sight: the highest daily death toll of 4,529 was recorded on May 19.
As a result, hospitals and other medical facilities across the country are stretched having run out of oxygen, ventilators, and intensive care beds, leaving thousands of patients without access to lifesaving critical care. The shortage also extends to healthcare workers, many of whom have contracted the virus themselves.
The Second Wave Hit Like a Tsunami
The current situation has been brought on by several factors. The first wave was relatively well-controlled and included a nation-wide lockdown. At the start of 2021 vaccination efforts were underway, and there was a growing confidence that the pandemic was behind them. With general acceptance of the narrative that India conquered COVID-19, restrictions were lifted: mask-wearing and social distancing adherence all but disappeared and large events, rallies, and travel resumed. When you add to the mix the confirmation of new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 infecting the population, the result is a catastrophic second wave that hit like a tsunami. “Nobody in India anticipated what hit us. The best of what we have in crisis management systems could not cope with it,” explains D Narain, Senior Bayer Representative, South Asia. With 1.4 billion people in India, this is not something to wait out. Without critical intervention in India, this crisis can quickly dismantle global efforts to put the pandemic behind us.
Increased Support for Healthcare and Agriculture
From the start of the pandemic, Bayer, who has had a presence in India for 125 years, focused on providing holistic immediate relief to neighboring communities. “While the initial priority was certainly to keep our employees and communities safe, we quickly focused on keeping the supply chains for agriculture and healthcare going, because we didn’t want communities to be further impacted by a food and health challenge“, recollects D Narain.
In addition to providing meals to frontline workers and quarantined people and the donation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals and frontline workers, Bayer distributed seeds and other agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers to support their critical livelihood needs and keep the food supply chain going during lockdown. Bayer also extended support to the Roti Foundation to provide nutritious meals to people from marginalized communities. The second wave, however, demanded even more.
Addressing Critical Oxygen Shortages
To help replenish oxygen shortages in hospitals, Bayer set up an oxygen plant at the Haria L.G. Rotary Hospital in Vapi, Gujarat. D Narain is especially proud of this initiative as it speaks of the creativity and resilient spirit of Bayer employees in the time of crisis: “Narendra Shah, our Plant Director at Vapi called me on a Sunday with a proposal to convert an existing nitrogen plant at the manufacturing facility to generate medical-grade oxygen to provide to a local hospital. Within 24 hours, the global teams in Germany were on board and a plan was put into action”. In a record time of three weeks, the team managed to complete the onsite conversion of oxygen from nitrogen, conduct trials and testing, and then dismantle and install at the hospital premises. The oxygen plant was handed over to the hospital on May 21. With the additional oxygen capacities, up to 50 beds can be supported with an uninterrupted flow of high quality medical-grade oxygen.
Donations of Essential Medical Supplies and Services
In addition, Bayer Foundation India is donating 200,000 N95 masks and 1,100,000 3-ply masks and oxygen concentrators —portable devices that remove nitrogen from the air to produce purified oxygen— to Primary Health Centers (PHCs) in 22 states across India to serve the most vulnerable rural communities. Over the last 10 months, Bayer along with the State Government, converted its plant at Chittegaon in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, into an 80-bed COVID-care facility. To further support those in need, the company has also sponsored beds in select hospitals across major cities for emergency support. As Maharashtra is one of the worst-affected states in India, Bayer is also partnering with NASSCOM and WNS Global Services to help the government manage 30 Intensive Care Unit beds via telemedicine solutions.
Improving Access to Care for Smallholder Farmers and Rural Communities
Hospitals are overloaded throughout the country, but in rural areas there is often the additional burden of a lack of access to nearby healthcare. In Ranchi, Jharkhand, the Bayer Better Life Farming (BLF) team, which supports rural smallholder farmers, answered that need. The BLF team approached the Common Service Center (CSC) to enable farmers with access to COVID-19 related healthcare services. As a result, the CSC set up a mobile van at the BLF Center in the Chanho block of Ranchi, to provide Covid-related Rapid Antigen Tests, medication, emergency oxygen cylinders and Telemedicine consultation. The van will also be able to serve as a vaccination provider to eligible individuals by the end of the month.
Focusing on Important Mental Health Issues
The physical needs are urgent, but the importance of mental health, especially in the case of essential frontline workers and farmers, is also critical. Bayer has partnered with Mpower to provide a free 24/7 helpline, live chat facility, and face to face counselling services. In addition, there will be workshops and support groups for those dealing with grief.
Ms. Khurana points out that first responder frontline workers and farmers experience mental health concerns like grief, burnout, PTSD, and anxiety daily. Farmers are also at risk of depression stemming from the additional stress of their current economic conditions. Over 10,000 frontline workers, farmers and their immediate family members struggling with mental health challenges will receive psychological support thanks to this partnership.
"During these unprecedented times, it is our responsibility to support the nation's fight against the pandemic. Our small contribution is an effort to sustain sections of our society where help is needed the most," concludes D Narain.
The COVID-19 pandemic remains a global crisis and continues to challenge all of us. While there is hope with vaccination efforts already underway in many countries, we need to stay vigilant. The collaboration between the public and private sectors and civil society remains crucial to overcoming this second wave and preventing the humanitarian crisis in India from derailing global efforts to overcome COVID-19. Bayer’s contribution to ramp up the availability of oxygen, medicine, healthcare and food in India is to assist people that are currently the most in need, bringing to life the company’s vision of ‘Health for all, hunger for none’.
Bayer against COVID-19
This is one of many examples of how Bayer is helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide with donations, products and expertise. We are also supporting CureVac in the development, supply and production of the vaccine candidate CVnCoV. Learn more about our engagement in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic here in our Corona hub and in our “Stronger Together against COVID-19” blog entries.