It is almost unimaginable how vastly different life in the pandemic is here in the United States and thousands of miles away in India and other parts of the world. As Memorial Day Weekend comes to a close and life has bounded back to almost as it was before the pandemic across much of the United States, India is faced with a second wave of Covid-19 that is more aggressive and deadly than ever before. While the US still sightly leads the world in number of reported cases and deaths, a huge difference exists in the overall impact of the fierce second wave that is striking India and other parts of the developing world: The desperate lack of healthcare and infrastructure that was problematic well before the pandemic struck.
Due to the crowded living conditions of disadvantaged communities, lack of adequate sanitation, and proper health care services, India is very vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 especially in its rural communities which represent a vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion people of population. Furthermore, with vaccination rates well below that of the United States (41.2% fully vaccinated) and only 3.2% of India’s 1.3 billion fully vaccinated, India has a long, difficult road ahead.
For over 20 years, the Rural Development Trust’s Bathalapalli Hospital has provided quality healthcare in rural India. Today it is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic and thankfully organizations such as the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and its local partner, the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in India are taking charge and doing whatever they can to save lives. While the challenges ahead are huge, there is hope.
Learn more about what they are doing on the ground to change and save lives, and how you can help today in this thought-provoking interview with Moncho Ferrer, President of the Board of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation.
I am delighted to share an interview I had with Moncho Ferrer, President of the Board of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, about his work in rural India and how he is continuing his partner’s legacy.
You were born in Anantapur, India (a rural community in the southeast of India) and your parents are the founders of the Rural Development Trust, the foundation that works on the ground in India. Why did you dedicate your professional career continuing their work in India?
Anantapur is the air I breathe. This is where I was born and raised. This is where I belong and I feel privileged to be part of the endeavor that my parents started more than 50 years ago. They were convinced that the eradication of poverty and human suffering was possible, and so am I. I cannot but feel fortunate.
My parents have neither pressured me nor my sisters to continue with their work in Anantapur. They always left that decision to us. They encouraged us to study further, go abroad and to decide about our own life journey – the same way that they chose theirs. So I decided to dedicate my life to improving the life conditions of the most vulnerable, and that, for me, is one of the most honorable things to do and I don’t see myself doing anything else.
Your mission is to empower rural communities to improve their living conditions? What programs do you provide to fulfill this goal?
We implement comprehensive development programs involving all areas of development and that promote change, equality and dignity.
Today we conduct robust, well-entrenched projects designed to ensure access to quality education, primary and hospital healthcare, housing and basic services; to support the empowerment of women, people with disabilities and tribal communities, and to unleash the full potential of the younger generations through culture and sports.
We work in partnership with the communities, other grassroots organizations and the Government to provide long-term solutions that contribute to eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities.
Recently, a second wave of Covid has been ravaging across India and devastating the communities where you work. Tell me what the situation is like right now on the ground in India?
I think here in India we all believed that after the first wave, we had won the war against COVID-19. That in a way India is different, and that we have managed to escape the devastating effects that all the experts were forecasting for a country with the dimensions and population of India. However, this has been proven wrong.
Right now, the general feeling is of fear, frustration and disappointment, but also willingness to go forward, to defeat the virus and to help each other. The Indian society is generally resilient, brave and determined.
As it has happened in other parts of the world, this second wave first hit big cities such as a Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore but what we are currently witnessing is that this tsunami of the coronavirus has reached the more remote places – something that did not happen with such intensity during the first wave.
Over 70% of the population of this country lives in rural areas, while only 30% of the medical facilities and professionals are located in these areas. This is not something new, but the result of this chronic lack of investment in health in general and in the rural areas of the country in particular, and it is leading to devastating consequences.
Access to quality medical facilities for millions of people in rural areas is very challenging even in normal times. Thus, these difficulties have just multiplied during this pandemic, with some transport restrictions, curfews and lockdowns being imposed.
How has your mission changed to provide Covid relief in India? (What is the COVID-19 Relief Fund?)
We decided to act as a single unit since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in India, using all our resources and expertise to contain and fight this pandemic.
In this second wave, due to its quick spread and increased severity, our main efforts have been to provide healthcare for COVID-19 patients and to ensure continuous oxygen supply for our hospital. Moreover, we have been focusing on raising awareness about the symptoms, preventive measures, and the importance of vaccination.
Bathalapalli Hospital, appointed a COVID-19 Hospital, has treated over 8,000 COVID-19 patients and hundreds of in-home patients isolation are receiving follow up treatment.
Due to the increasing severity of the cases as compared to the first wave, we are only admitting the most severe cases, of which over 80% need oxygen. Many of these patients are under 50 years old.For the cost of two cups of coffee, you could refill an oxygen cylinder and save a life in rural India. Visit https://www.vffusa.org/indiaoxygen/ to help. #oxygentoindia #covid19india Click To Tweet
During the first wave, following the guidelines of the Government and local authorities and keeping people’s needs in mind, we worked in different areas:
- Healthcare: RDT’s Hospitals remained open at all times. Bathalapalli Hospital was appointed a COVID-19 Hospital on April 16, 2020 and reappointed this year on April 19th. Our Hospital in Kalyandurg conducted over 800 deliveries (?) per month between July and September 2020. In May of this year, the same Hospital has performed over 900 deliveries.
- Awareness and prevention: We are continuously providing awareness about COVID-19 symptoms, the importance of vaccination and preventive measures. For this, we use different tools such as role plays using a character called the Corona Demon, as well as wall paintings. Through our local partner, IDT (RDT?), we also managed to produce and distribute over 5 million cloth facemasks and trained hundreds of local tailors to make them as a way to provide them with an income.
- Food distribution: That was of special relevance during the first wave as the sudden lockdown left millions of people without a source of income. 80% of India’s active population works in the informal sector, so the social consequences of the lockdown were harsh. We distributed over 400,000 cooked meals to migrants and families in vulnerable situation as well as 8,000 families received basic provisions such as food, grains, and soap among other necessities.
A hospital in Bathalapalli was recently turned into a Covid-19 hospital to help treat Covid patients. Where is Bathalapalli in India? What is the situation like at the hospital?
Bathalapalli is located in the rural area of Anantapur district in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It is 17 miles away from the Anantapur district headquarters and 124 miles away from Bangalore (a journey that takes about 4 hours.)For over 20 years, RDT's Bathalapalli Hospital has provided quality healthcare in rural India. Today it is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic. Find out how you can help Bathalapalli keep fighting at… Click To Tweet
The situation in the hospital is tense right now. The hospital has 307 beds, of which 273 have oxygen supply. Two days after the hospital was reappointed a COVID-19 Hospital, it was already at full capacity. The need of oxygen has been the major challenge. We have a liquid oxygen deposit that we used to refill once every 15 days during normal times. Since April, we have needed to refill it almost every day. A delay of few hours in the supply can have terrible consequences for patients with low oxygen saturation.
Some patients reach our facilities with an oxygen saturation of as low as 40. We have seen people who simply collapse, unable to breathe, unable to move and I am not just referring to the elderly but also for young and healthy people.
Our medical staff is overwhelmed with pressure and frustration. However, as compared to the first wave, their level of confidence and motivation is higher. COVID-19 is not ‘that unknown virus’ any more. Now they know how to treat it, they have protocols and protective equipment but as humans, it is very difficult to process the death of patients, especially of those who are young.
We have seen children and adults who have lost both parents because of this virus, husbands who have lost their wives and vice versa.
What have you learned through this tragedy?
During the last year it has been crucial to motivate ourselves to give 100% and I strongly believe that from every bad situation, from every crisis we can get many lessons.
- The need to invest in people’s health and wellbeing. Bathalapalli Hospital has been able to provide healthcare during this pandemic as a result of 20 years of investment and the commitment to ensure quality healthcare for those in rural areas.
- The crucial need to change our attitude towards the environment. What kind of a world do we want to leave for our children? This planet is our home, we need to take care of it and make its preservation an integral part of our daily lives and work.
- The fragility in which many people and poor families live . This crisis has particularly affected those with fewer resources. Whatever we do in the future has to provide these families with sustainable livelihoods in the long run.
- The goodwill and solidarity of the people. People have come forward to help each other regardless of their community or religion or any differences. Let us sustain this solidarity throughout our work.
- For the first time the whole world has come together to defeat this pandemic. This has resulted in an increased co-ordination between Governments and NGOs – an alliance that’s needed to ensure the well-being of the society.
How can people help support the COVID-19 Relief Fund?
It is not about how much a person is donating but about people offering a helping hand. Any contribution, big or small, has an impact on the life of another person who is suffering, because this pandemic is not over until everybody is safe.
Those willing to support our work can reach out to our office in the US and donate to our Mission Oxygen Campaign
About the Vicente Ferrer Foundation
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation USA is committed to combating poverty and inequality in rural India. Our goal is to improve the lives of India’s most marginalized groups to create a more just and equal society. We place special emphasis on assisting the most vulnerable populations: children, women, and people with disabilities, to ensure that development in rural India leaves no one behind. Women in India are particularly affected by poverty because of social discrimination.
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation USA uses a holistic approach to implement development programs. Through our local partners, Rural Development Trust, and others, we work with the most deprived communities in rural Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Together with our partners, we develop long-term solutions that empower communities and improve living conditions and promote social change.
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation USA is part of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation worldwide network, which strives to build a caring, just, and equitable society. We work to achieve this goal together with Rural Development Trust, India; Fundación Vicente Ferrer, Spain; and Vicente Ferrer Stiftung, Germany.
Rural Development Trust has been successfully implementing projects in India since 1969. The Fundación Vicente Ferrer was founded in Spain in 1996 and is now one of the largest foundations in Spain. The Vicente Ferrer Stiftung has been operating in Germany since 2019. The Vicente Ferrer Foundation USA was established in the U.S. in 2013. Learn more about the entire scope of our work here.
All photos in this post are used with permission by the Vicente Ferrer Foundation.
Like it? Why not PIN for later? I have it saved under my list of non-profits and other organizations that give back and help humanity.