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US Wants to Help India Produce Oxygen Fast

A health worker takes a mouth swab sample of a boy to test for COVID-19 in Hyderabad, India, April 29, 2021.

The United States, which has sent emergency aid to India, wants to quickly help the country increase its oxygen capacity to treat patients suffering from COVID-19, a U.S. official said Thursday.

A first military plane loaded with equipment, including nearly 1 million rapid screening tests and 100,000 N95 masks, arrived early Friday in New Delhi. The shipment is part of a more than $100 million support plan, according to the White House.

The priority "is to try to meet some of their immediate needs to deal with the serious challenges they face in their hospitals," said Jeremy Konyndyk of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"We also need to help them address some of the underlying challenges, on the volume of oxygen the country can produce," he told AFP.

The United States is discussing with India how to develop its oxygen supply chain, including using technologies to convert industrial-grade oxygen into medical oxygen and improving its transport.

Washington has also promised to help India by providing it with vaccines. But according to Konyndyk, for a country of more than a billion people facing skyrocketing cases, that is more of a medium-term measure.

"Right now, there just aren't enough vaccines in the world and not the ability to deliver them quickly enough to control this kind of outbreak," he said.

The United States announced Monday that it will provide other countries with 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized for use in the U.S.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has said it is sending equipment to India to produce more than 20 million doses of Covishield, a cheaper version of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in India.

Biden has been criticized by those who believe he should have shared vaccine doses with the rest of the world more quickly.