US looks to ramp up oxygen in India aid push

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A Covid-19 cornavirus patient is shifted to a ward after being admitted at the GTB hospital in New Delhi

The United States is looking to help India quickly and sharply scale up oxygen supplies available for Covid patients as it rushes in aid, officials said Thursday.

A first military plane loaded with emergency supplies including nearly one million instant tests and 100,000 N95 masks was arriving early Friday in New Delhi, part of what the White House said was more than $100 million in support.

The first priority "is to try and serve some immediate needs to address some of the acute challenges that they're having in their hospitals," said Jeremy Konyndyk, executive director for the Covid task force at the US Agency for International Development.

"I think we're cognizant that that's a sort of stopgap approach and we also need to support them to address some of the underlying challenges, which is really about the volume of medical-grade oxygen that the country can produce," he told AFP.

The United States is in talks with India on identifying how to expand the "oxygen supply chain" including developing the technologies to convert industrial-grade oxygen for medical use and improving ways to transport it throughout the country.

The United States has also pledged assistance to India with vaccines, but Konyndyk said that giving shots was more of a medium-term measure faced with the soaring cases in the billion-plus country.

"In the immediate term, there's just not enough vaccine supply in the world, much less the ability to rapidly put in arms, to get control of this sort of surge," he said.

President Joe Biden's administration said Monday it would release overseas up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the United States.

But several days later, the United States has not yet decided how many doses to send to India and other countries.

Konyndyk said the modalities still needed approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Biden administration in the meantime has said is shipping to India the supplies to produce more than 20 million doses of Covishield, a low-cost version of AstraZeneca developed in India.

Biden has faced criticism from development activists for not sharing vaccines more quickly as the United States is expected soon to face a glut of doses after rapid success at home.

India -- facing the devastation despite being a major vaccine manufacturer -- has also pressed unsuccessfully for the United States to ease rules on intellectual property for Covid vaccines.

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