Indian government faces criticism for delaying medical aid distribution as pandemic wreaks havoc

When India’s devastating Covid-19 crisis began last month, countries around the world began sending emergency medical supplies.

Planeloads of ventilators, medicines and oxygen equipment began pouring into India, from countries including the UK and the US, at the start of last week. By Sunday, some 300 tonnes of supplies on 25 flights had arrived at Delhi International Airport alone.

Most of the cargo sat in the airport hangers waiting for ‘customs approval’ while hospitals called for support.

Only on Monday, about a week after the first batch of emergency assistance arrived did the distribution begin.

The Indian government has strongly denied there is a delay, issuing a statement on Tuesday evening saying it had introduced a “streamlined and systematic mechanism” for distributing the supplies. The health ministry said in the statement it is “working 24×7 to fast track and clear the goods”.

Some healthcare officials claim there has been little to no communication from the central government on how or when they would receive supplies.

“There’s still no information about where it is being distributed,” said Dr Harsh Mahajan, the president of the Healthcare Federation of India, which represents some of the country’s biggest private hospitals.

“It seems people don’t know. I’ve tried two or three places and been unable to find out,” he added. “It’s still not clear.”

Some non-governmental groups involved in responding to the crisis also say they are frustrated by an apparent lack of information.

On Friday, the issue was raised at a US state department briefing, when a reporter demanded “accountability for the US taxpayers’ money” being sent to India, and asked if the US government was tracking the aid’s whereabouts.

“Rest assured that the United States is committed to making sure that our partners in India are taken care of in this crisis,” the state department’s spokesperson said in response.

UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “the UK has been working with the Indian Red Cross and Government of India to ensure transfer of medical equipment from the UK is as efficient as possible”.

“Distribution processes and decisions on exactly where support provided by the UK will be deployed are matters for the Government of India.”

Opposition politicians in India have also called for the government to release more information about how its relief effort is going.