U.S. rushes to aid India amid dire COVID-19 outbreak

People waiting in line seen through a COVID-19 vaccine sign (© Altaf Qadri/AP Images)
Patients line up for COVID-19 vaccinations at a government hospital in the Indian city of Noida, outside New Delhi, April 1. (© Altaf Qadri/AP Images)

The U.S. government and private sector are sending emergency aid to support India’s fight against COVID-19.

India is suffering its worst wave of the pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of people testing positive for the coronavirus daily, straining the country’s health care system.

President Biden pledged “America’s steadfast support for the people of India” during an April 26 call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden said in an April 25 tweet.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the United States is working around the clock to provide ventilators, therapeutics, rapid testing kits, vaccine ingredients and personal protective equipment to support India’s response and frontline workers.

The United States is also arranging a special flight carrying the first of several emergency COVID-19 relief shipments to India. Arriving in New Delhi from Travis Air Force Base on the world’s largest military aircraft, the shipment includes 440 oxygen cylinders and regulators, donated by the State of California. In addition, the flight will deliver 1 million rapid diagnostic tests to identify infections early and prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as 1 million N95 masks to protect India’s health care workers.

Meanwhile, several dozen U.S. companies have formed the Global Task Force on Pandemic Response: Mobilizing for India to provide lifesaving supplies, including oxygen, according to news reports.

The initiative led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-India Business Council and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum has pledged to deliver 20,000 oxygen concentrators to India in the coming weeks. American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc. has also donated 450,000 vials of remdesivir, an antiviral medicine used to treat COVID-19.

U.S. efforts build on long-standing cooperation with India on health initiatives, including battles against smallpox, polio and HIV. In March the United States and India, along with Australia and Japan, announced plans to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines to strengthen vaccination efforts across the Indo-Pacific.

The Quad partner nations committed to finance, manufacture and distribute at least 1 billion doses of vaccine for the Indo-Pacific region by the end of 2022.

The United States also has pledged funding to support the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, with an initial contribution of $2 billion to Gavi and plans for an additional $2 billion in contributions to Gavi  through 2022. The COVID-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC) distributes vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

“We are working nonstop across the government to do all we can to deliver on an urgent basis the supplies most needed within India,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters April 26.