Mobilizing Jewish Values in India’s COVID-19 Catastrophe

When COVID-19 surged across India, JDC immediately mobilized its local partnerships and delivered crucial aid to the country's most vulnerable residents.

October 6, 2021


By spring 2021, the pandemic in India was surging — with COVID-19 cases rapidly rising to unforeseen levels and taxing an already-strained healthcare system in what soon became the world’s most serious public health crisis.

But JDC’s response was just as immediate: Leveraging our longtime partnership with India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), JDC quickly began equipping rural women with health kits containing thermometers, oximeters, masks, and other crucial medical supplies.

JDC and SEWA also worked to train female village leaders in COVID-19 prevention and care — public health information that, before long, reached over 20,000 people in more than 20 villages in the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat.

“Before this, we were raising awareness, but there was a limit to what we could do, since our residents weren’t able to go to the doctor,” said Jashodaben Shrimali, a SEWA grassroots leader in the city of Ahmedabad. “But since JDC partnered with us on these kits, we’ve been able to reach the most vulnerable people and check their temperature and oxygen levels.”

The rapid response is part of JDC’s commitment to empowering vulnerable women worldwide — an impactful intervention made possible after more than 50 years of working with both the Indian Jewish community and secular organizations like SEWA, said Avital Sandler- Loeff, executive director of the JDC division overseeing disaster response and international development.


“Our initiatives address the needs of the most vulnerable, especially those often overlooked: women, children, and people with disabilities living in extreme poverty,” she said.

For our Indian partners at SEWA, support from JDC meant they had the resources needed to care for their neighbors amidst the surge.

In addition to distributing vital public health information, the health kits — which include items made by members of SEWA’s health and handicrafts cooperatives — also provide a livelihood and economic security to rural women, said Mirai Chatterjee, the chairperson of the SEWA Cooperative Federation.

“JDC has always been collaborative and cooperative, and during this crisis, JDC was not only the first to act, but also took time to understand local challenges and create programs that worked for and with informal women workers,” she said. “The courage, strength, and resilience of our members is what gives us hope for the future.”

Assessing emerging crises on the ground, JDC also brought Israeli technology to India to solve two critical medical needs — a lack of ventilators in overburdened hospitals and a shortage of doctors in rural intensive-care units.

“We deploy the best of Israeli innovation wherever possible,” Sandler-Loeff said. “Since these ventilators are battery-powered and can move easily between hospital departments, they’re especially valuable. I’m proud we were able to assemble them in Israel, airlift them to India, and put them to use saving lives in hospitals — all in less than ten days, start to finish.”

JDC is also leveraging telemedicine technology to help Indian doctors remotely monitor ICU patients. With this tool, doctors are able to assess 10 hospital beds from anywhere in the country with just one camera — ensuring that, despite physical distance and a ballooning patient caseload, medical professionals located thousands of miles away could efficiently administer care and communicate with patients.

These programs will contribute to a stronger and more durable healthcare system in India’s poorest regions, Sandler-Loeff said.

For those on the front lines, the relationship with JDC is an invaluable resource — both during the crisis and as they continue to work toward the sustainable development of India’s rural healthcare infrastructure.

“Through JDC, we’ve been able to help others,” said Shrimali, the grassroots SEWA leader, “and I’m grateful we can.”

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