The regional director of Operation Smile India shares the group’s impact on the country’s health system during the COVID-19 spring surge.

As a second wave of COVID-19 spread through India this spring, Operation Smile shifted its focus to help address the dire need for oxygen and other medical supplies in the country.  With resources available around the world along with the ongoing generosity of donors, the organization provided 100 oxygen concentrators to its partner hospitals across India.

“We are part of the communities we serve, so our hopes for health and opportunity are inextricably linked,” said Ruben Ayala, MD, Operation Smile’s chief medical officer.  “We believe that an action that bestows relief in times of crisis, however large or small, is worth the effort. We have no option but to try and do our part. Under enormous pressure and difficult circumstances, Abhishek Sengupta, our regional director in India, his team and partners made the seemingly impossible happen.”    

The central and state government struggled to meet demand for the increased oxygen supply as the number of infected people that required hospitalization with oxygen beds and ICU support grew. The impact of this second wave on India’s health system and economy was devastating.

“Purchasing oxygen concentrators in such a short time has been a challenge because of the sudden increase in demand and limited supply, but we were able to cut through a lot of the red tape and ensure they were purchased on time and delivered to partner hospitals,” explained regional director of Operation Smile India, Abhishek Sengupta. “These 100 concentrators are being used in COVID-19 wards of seven different hospitals today and have been instrumental in saving lives.”

Although all four Operation Smile India year-round care centers were forced to close at the height of the pandemic, teams continued to support patients as well as hospital partners. They were able to stay in touch with patients through virtual and home visits and provide necessary consultations for all patients receiving treatment. 

“In spite of the lockdown, our teams have been able to make home visits to deliver necessary food supplements and formulas to patients enrolled in our nutrition programs,” continued Sengupta. “We have ensured that there isn’t any inconvenience to patients, and the ones that are on a treatment pathway receive necessary advice and support virtually.”

With timely help from Operation Smile, the nonprofit’s partner hospitals in India were able to continue treating patients with COVID-19 and also allowed some hospitals to expand their existing number of COVID-19 beds. The donations made by Operation Smile will continue to support hospitals and patients and also ensure that its partner hospitals are better prepared for any third wave of the pandemic.

“The last year and half has been tiring. However, as a team and as an organization, we all remain committed. During the first wave we stood by our partners and patients by providing food to over 15,000 families, this time we are supporting partner hospitals, patients and their families,” said Sengupta. “We hope that these tough times are behind us soon and we can quickly reopen out centers and start providing clinical services. Patients are waiting.”