Neighboring countries have since had to brace for the reverberations of India's health crisis — some banning travel to the country while others that depended on Indian-manufactured vaccines are now being forced to turn elsewhere.
Kanika and Rohit Mediratta were 8,000 miles away in Palo Alto when they heard about the unfolding crisis that was severely burdening India's health care infrastructure around mid-April.
Rohit's brother, who is a neurosurgeon at a prominent hospital in Delhi, one of the epicenters of India's second wave, was telling the Medirattas that all admissions had stopped and his hospital could only conduct life-saving emergency surgeries. All the beds were taken, and no oxygen was available, he told them.
"That got us worried about what was happening there and we wanted to do something and make a difference if we could," Kanika said.
The Medirattas sprang into action.
On April 21, the Palo Alto couple began a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe and their own website at covidreliefindia.com. The goal: raise as much money as they can to buy as many oxygen concentrators for COVID-19 patients in India.
As the Medirattas learned in the first week of the campaign, however, doing so as full-time employees with two kids and coordinating with India's time zone, which is 12.5 ahead of Pacific time, wasn't an easy endeavor.
"A lot of our work starts around 9 o'clock at night, when people in India come online, and we'll work until 2 or 3 in the morning," Kanika said. "Then we get up around 6:30 a.m. to try and finish as much as we can with the fundraiser before we start our work."
Finding a source of oxygen concentrators, which functions similar to an oxygen tank, was another hurdle.
"There aren't that many manufacturing facilities that produce oxygen concentrators," Kanika said. "And there aren't that many that produce those units at hospital grade."
Initially, even when Kanika was able to find a source of oxygen concentrators, the units were only useful for patients who had low to moderate cases of pneumonia. But as patients enter critical care, they'll need a higher saturation of oxygen — and the number of suppliers that provide that type of oxygen concentrator, and ones certified from accredited agencies, goes down significantly.
Then, there were the logistical challenges. One unit of an oxygen concentrator weighs anywhere from 35 to 40 pounds. Its weight makes the units considered "dangerous medical goods," Kanika said.
"So just figuring out how to have a supplier who deals with shipment of dangerous medical goods and has that clearance from customs — it took us a couple of days to sort through," she said.
That's where SaveLife foundation, a nonprofit based in New Delhi that focuses on medical care, and Sanrai International, a medical equipment supplier, came in. While SaveLife was the beneficiary of the GoFundMe campaign, Sanrai was not only able to help with the source of oxygen concentrators, but it also became the receiving entity in India, working with the Delhi government, to make sure the units were procured and distributed to the necessary locations.
With them, the Medirattas' campaign established a supply chain. By April 26, 224 units of oxygen concentrators had been placed. Over 100 units arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on May 1, and 140 oxygen concentrators were finally deployed at a field hospital within the city on May 4.
The GoFundMe campaign has raised $553,049. As of May 18, the funds helped order 574 units of oxygen concentrators for Delhi, 300 oxygen cylinders for Karnataka, a state in southwest India, and 40 ventilators for ICU units in Delhi. Another $120,000 was directly donated to Save Life.
On Tuesday morning, one of Rohit's colleagues sent an email to the Medirattas about how a family member in India, sent to the hospital, was able to use an oxygen concentrator that directly came from their fundraising efforts.
Rohit and Kanika have also both lost colleagues in India to COVID-19, making their fight personal.
In addition, two weeks ago, in the midst of her fundraising work, Kanika's parents, who live in Delhi, were infected with the virus. Even though her parents were vaccinated, they were still weakened and had to be put on oxygen while at home. Their condition has since stabilized.
"I got to a point where I broke a little bit and took some time off from work just to be able to balance the fundraiser, plus all the stress of having senior parents in India without a lot of help, to manage," Kanika said.
But help was coming from all over her community and the world, including people from the U.K., Switzerland and Australia. Friends from high school, whom the Medirattas had not been in contact with, also contributed to the campaign.
"I've been very humbled by the support I've gotten from the community," Kanika said.
The country as a whole is beginning to see the other side of the second wave's peak. But the crisis is not quite over.
Today, the country still accounts for more than half of the global COVID-19 daily cases. On May 17, the country reported 263,533 cases. And while Delhi is stabilizing, Kanika said the same sort of battle that happened in Delhi with the lack of space in medical facilities and oxygen supplies is starting to unfold in more rural areas of the country, where resources are much more scarce.
"We've kind of shifted focus from Delhi to other areas in India because it's no longer just a Delhi or (Mumbai) problem," Kanika said. "And it's becoming much harder because a lot of the rural areas, in some places, you don't have a reliable source of electricity."
The couple increased the fundraising target of their GoFundMe campaign, which can be found at gofund.me/cec0b4ff, to $750,000 on May 8. Kanika said she and her husband had discussed whether they should stop their outreach efforts once they met their fundraising goals.
"There's still a need," Kanika said. "And while there's a need, if we know we can raise funds to be able to procure other medical supplies for other parts of the country, we feel it's our responsibility to do that and continue to push forward until we know the country as a whole has been stabilized.