The Israeli-Indian partnership tackling the COVID-19 crisis in India

We’ve all heard the cliche “greater than the sum of its parts.” It may seem somewhat overused, but for good reason. Gabriel Project Mumbai has been supporting vulnerable communities in India since 2012, and IsraAID globally since 2001. We both knew we needed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in India, and we both recognized that we would be even more effective by combining our expertise and know-how in order to address the critical COVID-19 surge in India.

Earlier this year, India was hit by an unprecedented and devastating wave of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. At its peak, daily cases surged to over 400,000, the most of any country at any point during the pandemic so far. Major shortages of medical supplies and medical staff left healthcare facilities overburdened and struggling to cope with the influx of cases.

 The need was clear and so was IsraAID’s choice to respond, yet flying even just one staff member into the country was not an option. IsraAID joined forces with Gabriel Project Mumbai, a local organization that knew first-hand how this pandemic was affecting the communities they work with.

Together, we are supporting government-run hospitals in Palghar, a rural district north of Mumbai with a majority population of indigenous tribal communities, directly reaching over 100,000 people in just six months. We have funded nurses’ salaries and hired additional medical staff to strengthen understaffed health facilities, as well as providing PPE and medical equipment to overwhelmed hospitals. A team of local community mobilizers are providing key public health messages and visual aids to thousands and are distributing crucial protective items and food aid. We are supporting these community mobilizers as they work in some of the most vulnerable communities by providing them with self-care and mental health support. Additionally, we built an oxygen plant and vaporizer unit that will support the life-saving efforts for hundreds of critical care patients.

When speaking with some of the nurses hired as part of our joint project, we asked if they were afraid to serve in a COVID ward. Nurse ‘J’ was in fact happy to serve COVID patients; her mother was diagnosed with the virus during the first wave and, thankfully, recovered. After feeling terrified at the thought of losing her mother, J’s experience provided her with an inexplicable closeness to her patients and their families.

It’s not a given that two organizations with aligned values and goals will make great partners. The challenge of creating an effective long-term partnership is finding complementary organizations, creating an equal partnership with equal say. One of us is a community-based organization with a local team, local knowledge and cultural expertise, and established long-term relationships of trust with the local government and communities. The other is a global NGO with expertise in public health, emergency relief, mental health, and COVID-19 response. The gaps in each organization are supported by the knowledge and resources of the other, allowing each organization’s strengths to complement one another and serve as valuable assets as they support communities most affected by the pandemic.                        

Prior to the pandemic, leveraging local talent and solutions was already a focus for both organizations, preferring to procure medical equipment, water filters, and other essential relief items locally. Even as an international NGO, IsraAID makes an effort in every mission to hire staff and technical experts from the communities they’re working in. That’s not to say that international support and professional expertise are not important, but it remains crucial to work collaboratively with local communities and listen to the perspectives and expertise of the national and local governments. This is critical when determining our course of action and accounting for the needs they identify and the assets and skills they possess.

We have ensured local sustainable solutions for complex challenges. As other aid organizations and governments were sending oxygen concentrators to India, we provided a localized response. Together with government health authorities, we built oxygen generating facilities for critical care patients in COVID-19 hospital units, saving hundreds of lives. The facility was installed by a local company, and staff from the hospitals were trained on how to maintain the facility, therefore the maintenance and longevity of the facility is not dependent on any outside expertise and can be repaired whenever is needed.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first crisis the people of India have dealt with, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. The work we’re doing together doesn’t only address the impacts of the pandemic but provides long-term health care and community outreach solutions for marginalized communities. Ensuring a community-based approach and the expertise and resources of both Gabriel Project Mumbai and IsraAID, the skills and resilience that the communities are currently building will be there long after our emergency response is over, helping them build back better. Together, we can achieve more.


 This blog was co-written with Kenneth Dsouza, the Director of Gabriel Project Mumbai.

Gabriel Project Mumbai is a community-led development nongovernmental organization working with communities residing in the underserved informal urban settlements of Mumbai, and the historically marginalized rural tribal villages of Maharashtra, India. Together with communities, we create innovative and comprehensive development solutions, enabling communities to thrive.

 IsraAID is an international non-governmental humanitarian aid organization based in Israel. Their teams have worked in emergency and long-term development settings in more than 55 countries around the world.