Editorial Team

The second wave of COVID-19 had a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods in India and has unsparingly exacerbated existing social and economic inequities. According to Oxfam India’s ‘Inequality Report 2021: India’s Unequal Healthcare Story’ the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect health outcomes of marginalised groups. While higher income groups have better access to health infrastructure than people belonging to lower income groups, the latter also have had to face heightened discrimination on being COVID positive. In order to bring these prevailing inequities in the spotlight and also to amend, this year once again, Oxfam India has brought back its virtual fundraiser ‘Walkathon for a Cause’.

Every year, the Oxfam Trailwalker Challenge motivates people in 17 locations and nine countries around the globe to reaffirm their commitment to fitness and community welfare. The theme of this year’s challenge — #WalkInMyShoes — is a call for empathy for those who have suffered enormously not just because of the pandemic but because of unrelenting discrimination and inequality. The fundraiser has been designed to alleviate the sufferings of the vulnerable through outreach work and tangible help. This year once again, it has gone virtual in view of the pandemic but its core intention to make a difference remains the same.

Despite being virtual, the challenge is designed to test physical endurance but still lets participants decide their own pace. They can either choose to walk 100 km in 10 days or cover 50 km / 25 km in 10 days. At a time when the ‘work from home’ culture has led to a sedentary lifestyle with little access to the outdoors or any desire to engage in physical activities, sitting in front of screens for hours is taking a toll on physical and mental health. This Walkathon can be a chance to step out of the digital world, venture outdoors if possible and enjoy a breath of fresh air.

Oxfam India’s CEO Amitabh Behar says, “Our analysis found that existing socioeconomic inequalities have precipitated inequalities in the health system in India. Our survey shows over 50 per cent people from SC and ST communities faced difficulties in accessing even non-Covid medical facilities. For sure, India has made strides in healthcare provisioning but this has been more in support of private healthcare — and not public — leaving the underprivileged at a great disadvantage.”

He also pointed out that the vaccination drive against COVID-19, when it started for the 18-44 age group, did not take into account the country’s digital divide, leaving rural populations and women more vulnerable to a possible third wave. He adds, “We should also be worried about the fact that while rural India houses 70 percent of the population, it has only 40 percent of hospital beds. The right to food, shelter and education has also been curtailed in the case of disadvantaged communities. This fundraiser thus is an attempt to extend help to all those whose stories of struggle largely remain unheard.” The Walkathon is not just a fitness challenge, says Behar, it is also a good opportunity to make a difference.

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