Indian-American physicians have sought “blanket immunity and indemnification” from the Indian government for offering their voluntary services to COVID-19 patients either virtually or in-person by flying to their home country amidst an unprecedented second wave of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The American Association of Physicians of Indian-Origin (AAPI), which represents thousands of Indian-origin doctors in the US, has urged this in identical letters to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.
AAPI has also raised USD 2.6 million for COVID-19 assistance in India.
“We request the Government of India through an emergency declaration (to) provide a blanket immunity and indemnification for volunteering physicians from the USA, providing COVID related medical care in India,” the AAPI leadership wrote in the letters.
“That will mobilise thousands of Indian doctors in the USA to come forward to offer their expertise and provide compassionate and competent care urgently and relieve the heavy burden on the overstretched physicians and systems in India. Please consider this request as an urgent priority, as time is of essence,” it said. Copies of the letters, dated April 30, were provided to PTI.
A delegation of the AAPI leadership is scheduled to have a virtual conversation with the health minister soon.
“Hundreds of Indian-American doctors are ready to sign up to help COVID-19 patients in India” through tele-health and remotely, AAPI vice president Dr Ravi Kolli told PTI.
“There are some legal and licensing issues that may not allow (tele-health and tele-consultancy). We want to get a clear understanding of what is the government”s position as far as licensing and liability requirements,” he said.
Once that is done “can unleash thousands and thousands of Indian doctors to help local doctors (in India),” Kolli said.
AAPI, he said, has three partners who are willing to donate their platforms for the Indian doctors to do consultancy for free. In addition, two groups of Indian doctors numbering 20 each from California and Chicago have offered to fly to India to serve in any part of the country to assist local administrations to treat COVID-19 patients.
“We do feel that it is our calling, it is our job, moral duty” to help people in India right now, he said, adding that there has been an outpouring of support from Indian-American doctors.
In less than a week, AAPI has raised USD 2.6 million. One of the biggest donations of USD 500,000 has come from Dr Jagdish Shah from Richmond in Virginia.
AAPI has so far sent 1,000 oxygen concentrators and is in the process of sending another 1,000. It has tied up with Sewa International USA, a non-profit body, he said.
“We are continuing to interact with the physicians back in India to answer their questions. AAPI as a group and individual physicians are reaching out almost on a daily basis with doctors on ground in India,” he said, adding that it is in addition to the calls being received from their friends and families back home.
“We are ready to jump and help in any way, because of the gravity of the situation both from a medical, scientific point of view as well as a humanitarian catastrophic point of view,” he said.
Describing the situation in India as dire, Kolli said people in India are dying of lack of oxygen.
“Doctors are exhausted. When we receive calls from doctors, they”re showing signs of stress and anguish, being burned, are not able to take care of the patient and save their lives.
“They are desperately pleading with whatever we can do to send whatever we can to help them provide some oxygen and basic care as well as more appropriate therapeutics, which also appear to be in short supply. So, we are well aware of the situation, the tragedy and the stress that everybody is having,” he said.
In the two letters, the AAPI urged the Indian government to mobilise on a war footing, all the resources available at its disposal to address the current reported scarcity of various therapeutics.
“As we know, the spread of COVID-19 is escalating and the associated morbidity and mortality is causing havoc and panic in the society. The critical shortage will have a further catastrophic consequence in the survival of millions of citizens,” the AAPI added.
India is struggling with an unprecedented second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days.
According to Indian health ministry data on Tuesday, India”s total tally of COVID-19 cases crossed the 2-crore mark with 3,57,229 infections being reported in a day, while the death toll increased to 2,22,408 with 3,449 new fatalities.
The total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country has climbed to 2,02,82,833, it said.