I have fond memories of my four visits to India – three to Kolkata where we had a diocesan companionship relationship and one to Kerala in the south. India is chaotic and crowded. And now it is an unfolding tragedy of suffering, pain and desperation where about 20000 people are dying every day.
We have now received both our vaccinations. There is a feeling of relief about that moment – but also a nagging concern that ‘none of us is safe until everyone is safe’. According to the Economist, the probable global death toll is 7.1 – 12.7 lives and the pandemic ‘has spread remorselessly from the rich, connected world to poorer, more isolated places. As it has done so, the global daily death rate has climbed steeply.’
The irony is of course that the Indian Covid variant now threatens a reverse of that rich to poor movement. The only way to stop it is to get vaccinations into arms as quickly as possible.
The reality is that rich countries have over-ordered vaccines because they did not know which vaccines would work. Britain has ordered nine doses for every adult. So what needs to be done to get an effective vaccination programme in the countries of the developing world? We have the means of protecting people all over the world – we just need to find a way of doing it.
Most obviously, rich countries could donate their surplus vaccines through COVAX – and that is happening to some extent. Then there is the need to waive intellectual property rights – this is moving slowly through the World Trade Organisation. Then there is the need to speed up manufacture and supply and that is already happening. The Economist reports that annual global vaccine capacity is moving from 3.5 bn per year to total output of 11 bn.
But back to the daily reality in India:
This is Mintu. He lives in the Aurima HIV/Aids Hospice in Kolkata which I have visited and which we have supported. My friend Ross Stirling Young, who has led fundraising to build a new wing at the Hospice, says on his Facebook today that Mintu has now tested positive for Covid. Mintu has helped with care for some of the younger children. It seems almost inevitable that Covid will now run through the Hospice – the children have all been affected by HIV and so they are immune-suppressed. Ross says further that the massive stigma associated with HIV means that access to hospitals is not always possible.
Mintu’s story is the human and individual face of a global tragedy. And it is a tragedy which is far from finished yet.