India Needs Our Help

EDITORIAL: How can we, who are called by Jesus to love our neighbors, extend a helping hand to India and other developing world nations whose pandemic plight remains dire?

Rohingya Muslim refugees gather during the Eid al-Fitr holiday inside their temporary settlement on May 14, 2021 in New Delhi, India. A lockdown is in effect as COVID-19 cases have surged in India, causing a shortage of oxygen supplies across the country.
Rohingya Muslim refugees gather during the Eid al-Fitr holiday inside their temporary settlement on May 14, 2021 in New Delhi, India. A lockdown is in effect as COVID-19 cases have surged in India, causing a shortage of oxygen supplies across the country. (photo: Anindito Mukherjee / Getty)

With COVID-19 case counts plummeting across the United States, local governments are easing their pandemic restrictions, and the American economy is continuing to recover. 

As a result, U.S. Catholics can draw a collective breath of fresh air and turn their attention to a more normal way of life in general and to getting back to the sacraments, particularly in-person worship at Mass.

While relief and measured optimism are warranted responses here in this nation, there’s a very different situation internationally, where COVID-19 continues to mete out a high rate of infection and death. In Christian charity and justice, we must ask this urgent question: How can we, who are called by Jesus to love our neighbors, extend a helping hand to India and other developing world nations whose pandemic plight remains dire?

As we recently reported, the situation in India has escalated into a full-blown national health crisis. India’s battle against the pandemic is marked by a sharply rising death toll, amid an acute shortage of vaccines, hospital beds, oxygen and Personal Protective Equipment. Scores of patients die gasping for air, as they wait for rooms in overcrowded hospitals.

By the end of April, India’s official death toll was more than 200,000, but many experts contend that it may be two to five times higher, with 300,000 infections and more than 4,000 deaths reported daily at present. It is nothing less than a life-and-death matter that demands a robust U.S. response, along with our prayers and help from faith-based international agencies. As a primary means of addressing the situation, President Joe Biden has proposed that the U.S. lift patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines to increase access and promote vaccine equity, an approach that Pope Francis has also endorsed. The World Trade Organization is reviewing this proposal. However, that process could take six or more months, which does little to help the current plight.

Vaccine producers like Pfizer have pushed back against such proposals, arguing that they are in position to ramp up manufacturing and supply the world with the necessary vaccines themselves. Despite India’s push for suspension of the patents in order to ramp up production, the pharmaceutical companies have questioned whether poorer countries could manufacture the vaccines, even if they managed to successfully compete for the materials needed to produce them. 

Their allies in Congress and elsewhere also note that pharmaceutical companies spent years developing new technology to produce vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, and though they did receive U.S. subsidies, any attempt to waive their intellectual property rights could weaken future U.S. competitiveness in biotech research and other areas.

According to some experts, a better and more immediate approach would be for the U.S. to divert more of its own vaccine stocks to countries such as India that are currently short of vaccines. A related argument is that the U.S., which is now in the process of approving distribution of its vaccines for teenage children, should refrain from vaccinating this low-risk group at least until those who are at far greater risk, in countries with far fewer medical resources, have been vaccinated. 

Alongside the vaccination equity debate, another top priority is the delivery of more medical supplies. At the end of April, the U.S. military began shipping oxygen cylinders and regulators, N95 masks and COVID-19 rapid diagnostic kits from Travis Air Force Base in California as part of a new U.S. commitment to deliver more than $100 million in emergency medical supplies to India. And while the promotion of greater international vaccine equity continues to be the Vatican’s leading COVID-19 health priority, Pope Francis has also established a COVID-19 emergency fund, under the authority of the Pontifical Mission Society, to aid those in low-income countries medically and economically. The Holy Father made an initial papal donation of $750,000 to the fund and appealed to Church groups and individual Catholics to make donations to the fund via the Pontifical Mission Societies in their own countries.

Following the Pope’s lead, Catholic Relief Services, the international aid agency of the U.S. bishops, is promoting vaccine equity alongside of extending direct COVID-19 medical support to more than 50 hospitals in smaller Indian cities through Catholic Health Association India, which is the nation’s second-largest health system. Donations to CRS’ efforts to assist India can be made through its website at CRS.org

Given the magnitude of the current crisis in India, such donations will be truly lifesaving. 

And along with sharing our material resources, as Catholics we need to intensify our prayers for COVID-19 victims there and throughout the world. In this regard, we can join ourselves in prayerful solidarity with the people of India, as the Pope requested on May 6. 

And further, join in the “marathon” of Rosary prayers to end the pandemic worldwide that the Holy Father has requested throughout May. 

Generosity to other peoples during their times of trouble is a prized American tradition, as well as a spiritual imperative of our Christian faith. India needs our help, so let’s make sure we’re doing everything we can to provide it.

Pope Francis receives a delegation from Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, June 21, 2021.

Prisoners Meet Pope Francis Before Visiting Vatican Museums

The men who met Pope Francis are inmates of a low-security prison, part of the Rebibbia complex located in Rome’s east suburb. The prison caters to those with addictive disorders and includes a treatment center and program for inmates with substance dependence.