India’s deadly 2nd wave triggered massive American India Foundation hospitals program

Ritu Jha-

Who knew the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic would be so devastating in India, remarked Nishant Pandey, CEO of the American India Foundation (AIF).

Pandey himself was infected in Jan 2021 and lost three members of AIF’s staff, shaking him up to do something not just for the foundation’s members, but also for the country.

In an interview with indica Pandey said he was grateful to donors who poured in money to help build as many as 38 hospitals in India.

Global board co-chair, Lata Krishnan(above right) on AIF’s accomplishments over the last 20 years stated, “It is AIF’s privilege to collaborate with a corporate leader who takes the time and effort to understand the plight of the underprivileged and invests in their future with thoughtfulness and empathy.”

AIF during the gala honored serial entrepreneur Jay Chaudhary(above left), CEO, chairman, and founder of Zscaler with the Corporate Leadership Award, May 7, attended by over 200 AIF supporters. The gala helped to raise $2.1 million, making history in the foundation’s Silicon Valley chapter.

“Jay was the first person to write a check for $3 million over just one phone call,” Pandey told indica. He had appealed to AIF members for funds April 24, 2021. The next day he was on the phone with Chaudhary. His check helped start the project of building hospitals in India. The rest followed.

Chaudhary supported AIF’s Covid relief efforts and personally gave $3 million and his employees donated with another $250,000.

Asked why the AIF decided to build hospitals, Pandey said people were dying without proper medical care. There were no beds available at existing facilities. Today the AIF runs 38 hospitals in 16 states with 2,712 beds and 53 oxygen plants. The entire project cost $40 million. Mastercard contributed $8 million and funded 2,000 beds.

What started 20 years ago to help victims of the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, is now supporting the underserved everywhere, he said. “We are in each and every corner of India,” said Pandey. “We deployed 5,540 oxygen concentrators in all 29 states. We are truly a national organization with 900 people on the ground across India.”

He said the hospitals set up are mostly on government land. “To get local government land was not easy and we also leveraged $9.5 million of government money,” he said.

Pandey said it was important to work with the government. “That is the only way to achieve scale and sustainability in a country like India,” he said.

Pandey said no one was prepared for the second wave. Nobody even saw it coming. Nor did anyone in the AIF have any idea how hospitals work. But thanks to his experience in Jerusalem, where he had worked with Oxfam, they were able to pull it off.

“The second Covid wave was very bad in India,” he said. People were dying, there was a lockdown and they could not move trucks and material around.

“We are not an export-import company, but we were importing stuff from Turkey, Taiwan, Australia, USA, China and getting supplies and working with FedEx and Amazon and logistic partners,” he said. “It was a huge undertaking.”

He said corporate donors made all this possible and thanked Mastercard for “having confidence in our ability. We had no idea how to set up a hospital or oxygen plants. Yet, based on our track record of delivering on other projects, our donors showed confidence,” he said.

When the Omicron wave began in November last year, AIF partnered with IIT Kanpur to train staff in all 38 hospitals. “It was a refresher course on how to use and maintain oxygen plants,” Pandey said. “What we are doing is strengthening the capacity of government to deal with this crisis in future.”

The death of three young staff members from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Haryana gave Pandey the determination to not be scared and sit down but to work.

“Every day starting April 2021 for six months, 9 am New York time, we would do 60-minute coordination calls and take decisions and review progress,” he recalled.

After the hospital project, they (AIF) launched a vaccine project and administrated two million doses across 26 states of India under ‘Mission Corona Vijay’.

Jay Chaudhary told indica he had known of AIF for a while but got actively involved only in April last year. “When the second wave hit India, with so many of our employees in India struggling and their parents needing help, I looked around whom to partner with and AIF was the organization I chose,” he said.

“I have known them for a while and have respected (co-founders) Ajay (Shah) and Latha (Krishnan) over the years,” Chaudhary said. “I look to make sure the money is reaching those it is meant for.”

The other post-Covid project launched by AIF was the Entre-Prerana program to help rebuild the business of street vendors. So far, it has helped 79,000 street vendors get back on their feet.

Yet another post-Covid program of the foundation is Market Aligned Skills Training (MAST). Pandey said over 125,000 women have been trained under it so far. “It is difficult for women to move to a new city,” he said. “So, these women can work from home with the vocational training provided by AIF.”

A program for the handicapped is part of MAST. During the gala, a video featured Shabana, a woman who lost both hands in an accident. AIF’s ABLE program helped her to learn to type with her toes. She now works as a data entry executive in a company.

Pandey said, “We have provided livelihoods to over 15,000 people with disability.”