The 'race against time' in India
The Covid crisis in India has fast become the biggest challenge in The Leprosy Mission's 147-year history and a 'race against time'.
Peter Waddup, Chief Executive of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, is appealing for prayer and emergency medical supplies and vaccinations as India's healthcare system collapses under the strain of the pandemic.
While scenes of people dying outside hospitals and makeshift funeral pyres burning through the night are beamed onto our screens, Leprosy Mission staff are working around the clock to save lives.
In a week when the official death toll peaked at more than 3,500 a day, the lives of Covid patients were saved at Leprosy Mission hospitals across India.
But much more needs to be done and quickly. While more than 150 million Covid vaccines have been given in India, this is just 11.5 per cent of its enormous population of 1.3 billion.
And, as ever, it is the most vulnerable, people living in communities affected by leprosy, that are left with little hope of receiving a vaccine.
Peter said, "We cannot watch and do nothing; we are in a real race against time here. A second wave of Covid is sweeping through India, causing untold damage.
"As Covid hits the desperately poor communities which we serve, often tucked away in rural India, people have little chance of survival.
"People affected by leprosy usually have compromised immune systems as well as lacking access to basic healthcare and sanitation.
"It is about saving lives now. We need to get oxygen and urgent medical supplies to our hospitals, as well as vaccinations to vulnerable people unable to afford transport. We pray that we will be able to do this in time."
Peter is in touch with his colleagues in India daily as the country struggles with what, we in the UK, feared could happen to the NHS in March 2020.
"It is truly their darkest hour," Peter said.
"Our supporters have been incredible supporting the people of India in prayer and through their giving. The need is just so great. India was the country in which The Leprosy Mission was founded way back in 1874. More than half of the world's leprosy cases are diagnosed in India alone each year. The Leprosy Mission has seen and overcome momentous challenges but nothing on this scale.
"So many Leprosy Mission staff have sacrificed their own health, and tragically lives, to Covid in the past year. Yet there is a steely determination to reach out and protect people living in communities affected by leprosy, the very poorest in India.
"It is such a strange paradox. As we in the UK feel the battle with Covid is almost won and are excited about our lives opening up once again, India has been plunged into the very situation we feared most. I am appealing to people to help if they possibly can. A little goes a long way in India and it is our responsibility, as humans, to save lives if we are privileged enough and have the opportunity to do so.”
It costs just £11.50 to give 24 hours of lifesaving care to a Covid patient at a Leprosy Mission hospital in India. It costs £32.50 to provide Covid vaccinations and transport to five people living in remote and poor communities.