OCs, more than a one-hit wonder

Swasth Alliance
4 min readJun 10, 2021

Two months ago, we started our fundraiser with the aim of deploying 50,000 OCs. Today, we have raised over Rs. 100 crores, of which Rs. 92 crores have been channelled into the Oxygen for Everyone initiative . We’ve now deployed OCs in 33 states and union territories, covering 416 districts — that’s nearly 70% of India’s geographical reach accounted for. The remaining Rs. 5.5 crores has gone towards other supplies, including oximeters and BiPAPs.

As tests and new case numbers have started to come down in most states, some of the burden on the health system has eased. But as with anything in India, the picture varies a bit more than a top-line number might suggest. In the first week of June, there are still 10 states whose test positivity rates are above 10%. Many have a declining overall trend, which gives us hope, but some parts of India are still confronting the second wave.

The declines in the Northeast of the country have only begun recently. Nagaland saw a sharp decline early in May but positivity rates had crept back up by the third week, only to turn around again a few days back. Mizoram, whose test positivity rate is below 10%, stands out because the positivity rate there has been climbing up steadily since the early part of April.

The virus has travelled the span of the country — but relief efforts have often not.

As part of our OC deployments throughout the month of May, we’ve made sure that oxygen infrastructure continues to reach each of the Northeastern states. Entities in some of these states were not on the radar of most relief efforts, making even the few tens of OCs we were able to deploy critical to ensuring the survival of patients there.

Swasth’s OC allocation across Northeast India

Some entities we wanted to reach in these states were less accessible, but we make sure that infrastructure constraints do not prohibit them from receiving the supplies they need. In some such cases, our partner entities re-deploy OCs, both within a state and across states, to make sure they reach those with the greatest need. OCs that were sent to but no longer needed in Rajasthan, for instance, were instead transported to Nagaland. As with Goa a few weeks ago, the combined efforts of the state government, the air force, and on-ground logistics partners enabled the successful re-deployment of OCs to where they were needed the most.

In many of the districts to which we are deploying OCs, health infrastructure is not the only challenge. Take Mon district, Nagaland, where Swasth has allocated 53 OCs. This expansive, mostly rural, district has not only inadequate health infrastructure and limited human capacity, but also the lowest literacy rate across the state, as well as the lowest per capita income. It has seen 900 cases to date, and isolated cases continue to pop up in villages, alongside persistent vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and difficulties enforcing masking and distancing.

But Mon also shows us how strong social ties and partnerships can help confront Covid-19, as civil society and community organisations have been working together to respond to the pandemic — from building awareness and reducing stigma, to preparing for future crises by augmenting capacity. We continue to track districts like Mon across the country, knowing that if any such state or district, no matter how remote, develops an oxygen crisis, the infrastructure and means to get people the oxygen they need exists.

OCs and oximeters being re-deployed from Udaipur to Nagaland, with the help of the Nagaland government and airforce

When we began on this journey, we had estimated we would need 50,000 OCs to tide over the crisis. As of today, we’ve been able to source 33,000 of them. Of these, over 20,000 have been deployed. But what of the rest?

None of the relief efforts we’ve undertaken focused on single-use products. Re-deployment is a useful tactic to deal with localised Covid-19 surges hereon, but our efforts go far beyond the Covid-19 crisis. From oximeters and OCs to BiPAP machines, our relief efforts have focused on devices and equipment that can be reused in a whole host of clinical situations. And so, we hope to channel the remaining 10,000 OCs to those parts of our health system that are most in need of general augmentation, beyond the crisis we’re beginning to emerge from now.

We’re currently working to devise a new allocation algorithm that enables us to do this. One that moves away from Covid-19 epidemiological data, now that we are no longer in crisis-mode, and focuses instead on data that captures the existence and adequacy of the health infrastructure in a particular district. It’s taken an incredible amount of effort and resources from thousands of people in India and worldwide to help us source these OCs. We wouldn’t want them to remain unused in any way.

Our long term mission remains stronger and more resilient health systems, and as in Mon district, and so many others like it across the country, it’s not just OCs that will get us there. And so as we continue to raise funds to reach our target of 50,000 OCs, we also continue to build information and awareness, train healthcare workers, and expand our partnerships with local actors on the ground.

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Swasth Alliance

Swasth is an alliance of over 150+ healthcare organisations in India, including hospitals, rural health NGOs, insurers, health tech, med-tech and others.