March 25 2020

India and COVID-19: What is the impact on the people we help?

In these difficult times, our thoughts go out to the people who are ill, to their families, and to all of those risking their own health for the health of others around the world every day.

India – where Karuna-Shechen has been carrying out humanitarian work for 20 years – has just announced containment measures in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, forcing us to suspend our operations on the ground.

India in containment, our programs are suspended

On March 25th, the Ministry of Health in India reported 512 positive cases of the virus, including travelers. It counts 9 deaths and 41 people treated. The situation evolves very quickly: the World Health Organization reported 173 cases four days earlier. The government’s ability to carry out screening is also being questioned. In fact, only people who have travelled recently and have been in direct contact with the virus are tested. The official figures announced by the government downplay the reality since too few tests are administered, and we know the virus has begun to spread widely, especially in cities.

In order to stop the spread of the virus in India as quickly as possible, the government has decided to close the borders and to accelerate the closure of all schools and nurseries. The Ministry of Health and other health organizations regularly communicate preventive health measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks.

On March 19th, in a speech broadcast live, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide curfew. As in France, the situation in India is evolving extremely fast. On Tuesday March 24th, the Indian government announced a 21-day national lockdown, forcing us to temporarily halt our humanitarian actions. It is therefore necessary that we put our clinics and mobile clinics on hold until further notice.

Our teams understand and support the government prevention measures put in place. We are aware that maintaining our actions today would endanger not only the rural populations we are helping but also our own employees.

The closure of our operations is therefore part of Karuna-Shechen’s commitment to always opt for the most altruistic solution.

Economic, health and food security challenges

The spread of the COVID-19 virus is already impacting Indian society, which represents 1.3 billion people, or 17.5% of the world’s population.

From an economic point of view first, since professional activities have had to come to a halt. The majority of Indian jobs cannot be maintained at a distance, or by telecommunicating, and has therefore already caused a significant drop in the income of the poorest Indian households.

From the sanitary point of view in second, since Indian health facilities are not able to absorb the large number of cases that can be expected in the near future, both in terms of the number of health centers and the number of beds available. For example, in the state of Bihar, which has a population of more than 100 million, only two hospitals are able to receive, screen and treat patients with the virus. There are also health problems related to water. For a large part of the population, access to drinking water is extremely complicated. The simple act of washing one’s hands becomes difficult, if not impossible.

From the alimentary point of view finally, in terms of food, the closure of all schools in India means that for more than 100 million children, their one school meal a day is no longer available. This meal becomes an additional economic burden for families, who are now obligated to add this daily food to their budget.

Our answer, our thoughts

In the previous weeks, we communicated prevention measures to our beneficiaries to limit the spread of the virus and to share best practices and recommendations in case of suspected illness. We believe that this approach was essential in rural areas in order to minimize contagion if the spread of the virus reaches these areas.

Karuna-Shechen’s work to implement multiple rainwater filtration systems in these isolated villages is now an opportunity for them to prevent the spread of the virus, in addition to providing daily access to drinking water. In the same way, our organic family vegetable gardens now provide the villages we support with a significant degree of food independence.

In this difficult context, our development actions represent more than ever a means of mitigating a developing crisis rather than having to respond to it. This crisis also questions our own practices: our desire, through participatory and inclusive programs, is to implement sustainable solutions for the local populations who benefit from them. Today more than ever, this crisis shows us the need to develop programs that promote the autonomy of each individual. This is why we will maintain these commitments as soon as our activities resume.

This situation is new for everyone, and it is an opportunity to question our personal motivations and what drives us every day to choose altruism. This time of isolation can therefore also be an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture of our spirit.


« The troubles we are going through contain a precious potential  for  transformation, a treasure trove of energy from whichwe can draw full strength to build what indifference or apathy do not allow. » – Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill