Health Minister Robin Swann has said Northern Ireland had a “moral duty” to provide help as Covid wreaked havoc in India.
Equipment sent from here is estimated to have helped save more than 1,000 lives.
Speaking at an event in Belfast yesterday to convey the gratitude of the Indian community to Mr Swann, he said that he had been surprised and relieved at the scale of the help that he was able to give.
He had received an evening call from then Health Secretary Matt Hancock to sound out what contribution Northern Ireland might make.
“At first I thought of all the PPE equipment that had been so vital for us in the early days of the pandemic,” Mr Swann recalled.
But then he found that he could provide India with three oxygen generators, “just one of which would provide three times the needs of the Mater hospital, for instance”.
Mr Swann was speaking in Sandy Row Community Centre at a lunch organised by ImageNationNI, an Indian community group which seeks to develop relationships in Northern Ireland. “It was our moral duty to do what we could to help,” he added.
“When I stood on the runway at Aldergrove that night in early May and watched the massive cargo plane leave our shores I felt a mixture of pride and hope as a result of the fact that we in this small country were able to provide support to our friends across the globe in the world’s most populace democracy.
“It has already been reported that the oxygen supplied by the three oxygen generation units that we sent over has already helped save more than 1,000 lives and I hope that this equipment can continue to help ease the pressures being experienced in India.”
The lunch was attended by several distinguished healthcare workers from India who live here and Mr Swann thanked them for their work.
A speech by Lord Rana, who is currently in India, was read out by the writer Malachi O’Doherty, a Belfast Telegraph columnist, who is also a member of the ImageNationNI committee.
Lord Rana said: “I know many of my friends at home have close contacts with India through family and friends and have the clearest sense of how bad things have been.
“Many indeed have offered their practical support, doctors and other medical practitioners staying up through the night to provide guidance and counselling to the sick and the distressed by phone or Zoom.”
Lord Rana added: “I want to acknowledge, as I am sure you do too, that we have a Health Minister in Stormont who is a man of diligence and intelligence and who has exercised a profound sense of responsibility during this crisis.”
He also thanked independent MLA Claire Sugden for the support she had offered to Indian people, adding: “She and Minister Swann have well understood the stress and grief which our friends and relations have suffered.”
India has officially recorded more than 414,000 Covid-19 deaths so far.
However, the number of ‘excess deaths’ could be 10 times higher than the official death toll, according to a study that estimates that between 3m and 4.7m more people died than would be expected between January 2020 and June 2021.
The study was carried out by the US-based Center for Global Development.