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May 4, 2021 3:20 pm

Israeli NGO Brings Emergency Medical Support to Rural India in Fight Against ‘Overwhelming’ COVID-19 Crisis

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A health worker waits for the results of a rapid antigen test at a COVID-19 testing center in Srinagar, India. Photo: Idrees Abbas / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

As a catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 infections ravages India, an Israeli non-governmental humanitarian aid agency has begun providing emergency medical supplies and support to struggling 20 government-run hospitals in a rural areas with fewer resources than the country’s cities.

IsraAID has teamed up with the local Gabriel Project Mumbai, a Jewish volunteer-based non-profit organization, to help with urgent relief needed in the Maharashtra’s Palghar district, a mostly rural and tribal region bordering Mumbai, and home to over 4 million residents. Palghar is among the worst hit areas of the state, where the COVID-19 case count has gone up to 90,654, with a death toll of 1,621.

“The scale of the crisis in India is beyond overwhelming and the true COVID-19 numbers are probably ten times higher outside the cities as there is very limited testing,” Yotam Polizer, IsraAID’s CEO told The Algemeiner. “Rural areas in India are very vulnerable and low-resourced. One of the challenges of emergency relief is that it is often done on a bigger scale all arriving in a big bucket. Our approach is more community-based. We track and monitor to make sure that the emergency supply reaches the most vulnerable.”

Together with the Gabriel Project Mumbai — founded in 2012 by Australian-born hi-tech executive turned social-entrepreneur Jacob Sztokman — IsraAID has started to locally procure urgent basic medical and protective supplies, including beds, face masks, syringes, and gloves for distribution to the hospitals in the Palghar district. To help the hospitals cope with major shortages and the influx of new COVID-19 patients, IsraAID is planning to ship medical equipment, including lifesaving oxygen, ventilators, and nebulizers.

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Polizer added that the organization’s efforts will also focus on what he called the devastating secondary effects of the pandemic — in particular, the growing mental health crisis of frontline health workers, as well as the training for medical staff to encourage vaccinations.

Founded in 2001, IsraAID has responded to humanitarian crises in more than 55 countries as of March 2021.

“Israelis have a lot of experience with dealing with trauma. Our team of specialists will provide psychological first aid to healthcare providers online,” Polizer said.

With the coronavirus crisis spiraling, IsraAID is now in discussions with a group of private healthcare providers financially backed by CEOs of leading companies in India, to possibly help set up a few hundred field hospitals to boost patient capacity.

“Israel through the IDF is number one in the world in terms of expertise of field hospitals,” said Polizer. “Our role, if this program is realized, is to provide expert knowledge and knowhow.”

IsraAID’s aid program comes as countries around the world, including Israel, have announced emergency relief to India. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that Israel will deliver “comprehensive” life-saving medical aid equipment to India in a series of flights throughout the week.

“The extension of emergency assistance is an expression of the deep friendship between our countries, in India’s time of need. This is the true meaning of the mutual guarantee so needed during this period of the global coronavirus crisis,” Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement. “Israel and India share strategic ties that span a wide range of political, security, and economic issues. India is one of the most important countries for Israel in the international arena, and particularly in the Asia-Pacific arena.”

The assistance package will include thousands of oxygen generators — which are needed immediately in the Indian health system — as well as respirators, medications, and additional medical equipment.

“Two of Israel’s leading hospitals — Ichilov and Tel Hashomer — will be sending two delegations with doctors and nurses to India to help with the use of the medical equipment and to share our practices and experience to cope with the pandemic which we are all still learning,” Ron Malka, Israel’s Ambassador to India and Sri Lanka, said in a Tuesday interview with India Today.

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