Covid crisis in India: More to do with system failure than virus itself

India Covid crisis: An Indian Army hospital in Pune was turned into a “Covid Hospital” last year. When the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country, India got caught off guard and flat footed in its response – or lack of it.
An Indian Army hospital in Pune was turned into a “Covid Hospital” last year. When the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country, India got caught off guard and flat footed in its response – or lack of it. Photo credit: PIB

Political decisions based on ignorance, arrogance, and self-interest have hurt the country during the year and a half of the pandemic, and have undone forefathers’ dreams for an Independent India.

By Raj Asava

Population, Poverty, Practices and Politics has brought the largest democracy in the world to its knees. A once proud India is desperately looking to the world for help — help, for basic health care items.

Situation in India has gone from stable to worse:

  • COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising at unprecedented levels
  • Huge demand for ICU beds while hospitals have already reached max capacity
  • Critical shortage of medical oxygen and medicines like Remdesivir
  • Crematoriums and burial grounds are overwhelmed
  • Vaccinations have been woefully slow
  • States are going back in lock down — straining the economy and once again creating humanitarian issues for migrant workers and the poor

It is ironic that just a couple of months ago, India was confident and resilient. It was as though India had emerged through the first wave of this pandemic unscathed, ready to not just get back to normal but to extend a helping hand to the world struggling with the pandemic.  The Indian Government declared itself to be the pharmacy to the world for vaccine production and committed to help other countries, several of whom did not have resources to tackle the pandemic on their own. Indians started to celebrate. Shelter in place for almost an entire year had isolated people and taken a toll on their livelihoods. So, people started engaging in activities they had missed: parties, movies, events, and a whole host of socializing started all over the country — without consideration of social distancing. Festival celebrations and election rallies with tens of thousands of people in attendance became commonplace.  The images on TV were surreal; it was as if they were replays from a time before the pandemic. The urgency to vaccinate dissipated and India became complacent when it came to fighting the pandemic.

READ: Vaccinations are the ‘end game’ to India’s Covid crisis: Fauci (May 11, 2021)

And then came the variants, simply referred to as the second wave. This variant turned out to be very virulent, air borne, even targeting younger people. India got caught off guard and flat footed in its response – or lack of it. As a result, we are witnessing a crisis of apocalyptic proportions all over India. Entire families are impacted, younger and younger folks are testing positive, being admitted to hospitals, and the entire medical system – from cradle to grave – is overwhelmed. Media coverage of overworked medical workers; people frantically searching for critical medicine like Remdesivir; gut wrenching stories of loved ones dying gasping for oxygen; and mass funeral pyres and burial sites operating around the clock to accommodate the vertical rise in COVID deaths across this once great nation are invading our homes and hearts thousands of miles away.

The rise in deaths however cannot be totally attributed to the pandemic and its variants. The most unfortunate and distressing part of the current situation is that a large number of these deaths are/were totally avoidable. Due to the sudden and overwhelming demand on the medical system, hospitals around the country started to run out of basic health care items like oxygen. India’s medical infrastructure – hospitals, beds, ICUs, and personnel – already inadequate for the staggering population of 1.4 billion people, were stretched dangerously thin during the second wave eventually breaking, turning a bad situation into crisis.  A grim reminder that “flatten the curve” which had become a mantra around the world all of last year was to prevent this exact scenario. This unfolding of the worst humanitarian crisis right in front of our eyes will have a lasting negative effect on the physical, mental, and social well-being of all humanity.

READ: Getting Covid in India was my life’s worst nightmare: Arjun Rao (May 10, 2021)

While finger pointing and blame games go on in the world of social media, the need of the hour is for everyone, world-over, to collaborate. Remember, in this global pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe – and safe in current times means safely vaccinated.

So let us come together to pool our resources, know-how and influence to get the needed assistance to India, urgently. To provide immediate help to India, please accept our matching challenge and consider a donation at:

Now, let us dig a little deeper into how Population, Poverty, Practices and Politics collectively resulted in a nationwide System Failure across India, which has caused the current chaos, with the potential to spin out of control into a global catastrophe.


When I left India in 1974, the country’s population was 600 million. Even during those days, I witnessed poor hygiene; shortage of medical staff, equipment and medicine; and overall a spotty medical care at the crowded government hospitals. The country’s population since then has more than doubled and is now touching 1.4 billion! Unfortunately, the country has not invested in medical infrastructure to keep pace with the population explosion.


While India had done a good job in lifting people out of poverty since the beginning of this century, the pandemic sent millions of people back below the poverty line. Over 134 million people today live in extreme poverty – at $2 or less daily wages. To them, these government hospitals are the only recourse. Sure, many private hospitals have been built in every city and India until recently was a major player in medical tourism. However, it is important to remember that during a crisis of this magnitude, all institutions – public and private – are subject to the same environment of scarcities, and those at the bottom and even top of the pyramid find themselves on the outside looking in the at the overcrowded medical facilities.


India is a melting pot of cultures, values, beliefs, religions and practices. Even in the business world, processes and practices are regularly overwritten by intuition and authority. On the personal front, superstition and beliefs are so strong and engrained in people that they create a dangerous alternate reality – one of convenience, control and distortion by the influencers. This makes it virtually impossible for a democratic country to be able to herd 1.4 billion people to a systemic approach to tackle a pandemic of this magnitude.


Since its independence back in 1947, India has seen an erosion of its rich culture, dilution of its strong values, and a decline in the servant leadership that its history and scriptures talk about (Ram Rajya). Rampant corruption at every level has made the political system convoluted and controlled by career politicians – many with criminal backgrounds. In a land of a vast rural and illiterate population, might and demagoguery rules.

Political decisions based on ignorance and arrogance, as well as self-interest ahead of the country’s interest, have hurt India during the year and a half of the pandemic, and undone what its forefathers dreamt for an Independent India.

I appeal, once again, to those who can help to step-up in this time of need. To provide immediate help to India, give so others can live, at

(Raj and his wife Aradhana (Anna) Asava retired from the corporate world to dedicate their time, energy and resources to help fight food insecurity. They started the HungerMitao movement which has enabled over 30 million meals for food challenged children, seniors, veterans and families across the United States of America. You can learn more about this grass roots movement at


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