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Oxfam India’s Open Letter to Narendra Modi Requesting Urgent Measure in wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

March 28, 2020 | By

New Delhi: Oxfam India yesterday (March 27) released an open letter (copy below) to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for an eight-point plan that includes focus on increasing free testing, ensuring gender and socially inclusive response, and enabling the civil society network to join the fight against coronavirus.

The pandemic has caused widespread suffering in rich countries, overwhelming some of the best healthcare systems in the world. In India, high levels of poverty and inequality risk accelerating the disease, the public health challenges are even greater.

This is a public health emergency which requires government to provide free healthcare, testing for all. Testing should be made free in both public and private sector in line with the recommendations made by the ICMR; current private sector rates capped at 4500 INR are too expensive given that 74.25% of households earn less than 5000 INR per month (SECC, 2011).

Safety of health workers and those on the frontlines of the response must be ensured by making available personal protective equipment to minimize the risk of their infection and monitor and prevent any discrimination or attacks on health workers.

Measures taken as part of the recovery package announced by the Finance Minister are welcome. However, more could be done. According to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2017, 20% of Indian adults lack a bank account; 54% of women’s Jan Dhan accounts are inactive. Some of India’s most marginalized, like unregistered construction workers and those without Jan Dhan accounts, will remain outside social protection during the pandemic.

Urgent support is needed for migrant informal sector workers including food, temporary housing (for those stranded) and cash transfer. The government should explicitly ban reduction in workforce of MSMEs and other enterprises and put a freeze on any evictions and demolitions in all low-income settlements for the duration of the endemic.

Amitabh Behar, Oxfam India CEO said “These are unprecedented times. We need community support and compassion in these times. We have suggested an eight-point plan which includes allowing the civil society to respond to this public health emergency. Civil society can potentially help by pooling resources, running awareness campaigns and addressing issues of livelihood and providing relief material. To make this happen, we need Indian government to provide guidelines which would help transport relief material and enable volunteers, staff of credible organisations to support the response on ground.”

India has a small window of opportunity to implement prevention measures to stop and delay the further spread of the pandemic. The world into which we would emerge at the end of the pandemic would be a fundamentally different one. All steps need to be taken to ensure that it is a better one.

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