Temasek Review 2021

(Photo: SATS)


Racing Against the Pandemic to Save Lives

Ensuring that global communities are equipped to treat and contain COVID-19 infections is key in a fight against a virus that respects no borders.

25 April, 8.36pm: Air India flight AI1369 taxis down the runway at Singapore's Changi Airport, its hold bearing oxygen concentrators destined for medical facilities in eight Indian cities. As its nose lifts, Temasek's Singapore team has already begun working on the next flight-load of life-saving equipment.

Mission Vayu is off the ground — and speed is of the essence.

At Mumbai airport, its precious cargo is cleared, and loaded onto vehicles that fan out in multiple directions.

As the first oxygen concentrators are deployed, pictures start to stream in via WhatsApp of patients breathing in continuous, concentrated oxygen.

In cities around the world, a team of 50 volunteers from various corporate partners and foundations, exhales.

“Until the equipment got to where it was needed, the planning didn't mean anything,” says Kimberly Tan, a Director of Investment with Temasek, who arranged the freight and flights from Singapore. “All the calls and discussions, emails and WhatsApp messages had culminated in something tangible.”

In the days and weeks that followed, more Singapore Airlines and Air India flights would bring oxygen concentrators, BiPAP positive airway pressure machines, and other equipment to the worst-hit areas across India, adding much-needed weight to the country's fight against COVID-19.

The Need for Speed

From a 13th-floor apartment in Mumbai's Bandra district, Ved Kalanoria runs the India control centre for Temasek's contributions to Mission Vayu, a civic-led initiative to get life-saving equipment to the hospitals and communities that needed them most urgently.

Vayu means “air” in Hindi, and India is in desperate need of it. Mere months after catching its breath from COVID-19's first wave, the country of 1.4 billion found itself overrun by a second, deadlier wave in April this year.

On his desk are his laptop, a collection of handwritten notes, and the mobile phone that hosts his virtual “war room” on WhatsApp. It connects him to Temasek and Temasek Foundation colleagues around the world, as well as key partners in Mission Vayu.

Getting that first plane off the tarmac was a race against time, a frenzied exercise to secure equipment and planes, and endless phone calls for the necessary approvals. It was powered by both adrenaline and the knowledge that in this war against COVID-19, India was rapidly losing.

Supplies bound for India
Supplies bound for India being loaded up a Singapore Airlines plane (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

“This virus knows no boundaries. The rich were falling sick, the poor were falling sick — and everyone needed aid. Millions of dollars of equipment needed to get to multiple points around India. And for every day of delay, people would die,” says Kalanoria, a Director of Investment at Temasek's Mumbai office.

Temasek's involvement in Mission Vayu began on April 19 with a WhatsApp SOS from Sudhir Mehta, Lead and Coordinator of the Pune Platform for COVID-19 Response, to Temasek's Anuj Maheshwari, Managing Director of Investment, who is based in Singapore.

“He said that the COVID-19 situation in India was getting worse and that oxygen concentrators were badly needed. Many thought the spike in cases was a blip, but his instinct said otherwise. Could Temasek help?” recalls Maheshwari, who led the coordination efforts in Singapore.

The scale and ferocity of India's second wave had not yet made it to the headlines, but the crisis was apparent on the streets.

Mehta, who is also President of business advocacy and networking group Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA), had a finger on the pulse of what was happening on the ground.

2020's situation paled by comparison in its level of catastrophe. This time, India wasn't just short of ventilators. The Delta variant had overrun the healthcare system. The need was clear — and Temasek's management moved quickly to help.

Days later, the headlines exploded.

In April alone, more than 6.6 million people were diagnosed with COVID-19. In May, the daily caseload topped 400,000 and daily death tolls climbed past 4,320 to new record highs. Accounts of the desperation for tests and treatment indicated that there might be many more.

Eye on the Mission

While Temasek's network was quick to come through with the oxygen concentrators, the bigger challenge was getting them to where they were most needed — and fast.

“We needed to get the equipment from Singapore to India, and then from airports to hospitals around the country. But there were many hurdles — including getting around custom duties on multiple planeloads of expensive medical equipment. We needed partners who could make things happen,” says Maheshwari.

That's when a “miracle” fell into place.

“We saw the power of a group of willing individuals. Everyone knew why we were doing what we were doing, and went the extra mile.”

In the span of a weekend, MCCIA received the approval of the Indian government, clearing a path for the equipment despite India's complex laws around charitable donations. ACT Grants, a non-profit driven by Indian start-ups, pulled together donors and organisations willing to help, including Amazon India to handle on-ground logistics. In Singapore, Temasek secured the necessary equipment and the support of airlines that would make the drop.

Indian NGOs, including Swasth Alliance, figured out where the equipment would make the biggest impact, and ensured it got there quickly.

In the rural parts of states like Rajasthan and Karnataka, where the virus was spreading and life-saving equipment was out of reach, NGOs found creative ways to get the concentrators to where they were needed. Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS), which focuses on disaster response, education and social development, put some of the concentrators it received into nine buses equipped with oxygen-supported beds, which could be deployed to areas with the highest need. In some cases, concentrators could be borrowed from 227 “oxygen banks” and moved from home to home.

“The healthcare infrastructure is very limited and the need for equipment was very high. People in the rural areas could now go to our ‘oxygen banks'. Thousands of lives have been saved,” says Shantilal Muttha, Founder of BJS, which is already making preparations on how to deploy the equipment in the event of another wave.

Once the initiative went “live”, Mission Vayu's WhatsApp war rooms were flooded with both requests for and offers to help. Donations poured in. “The effort was dynamic, alive. Everyone was moving at the same pace, with the same sense of urgency. We were completely aligned on a successful outcome,” says Temasek's Kalanoria.

The healthcare infrastructure is very limited and the need for equipment was very high. People in the rural areas could now go to our ‘oxygen banks'. Thousands of lives have been saved.

Shantilal Muttha
Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana
Beyond the pandemic, Temasek Foundation has touched over 1.5 million lives across Singapore and Asia. Learn about its mandate and approach to safeguarding and uplifting communities.

In Our DNA to Help

Ultimately, the effort resulted in a massive and multi-faceted response to India's oxygen and healthcare crisis – one without commercial contracts, and also without doubt.

“Millions of dollars' worth of equipment were moved on the basis of someone's word. But if we had waited for everything to officially fall into place, thousands of lives would have been lost. We just moved, improvised and course-corrected,” says Maheshwari.

For him, it reflects “Temasek's DNA”.

“When there is a crisis, we help. It's a mindset shared across the organisation. We had provided COVID-19 help to other countries, and knew how. We also had the resources. So, we simply rolled up our sleeves and moved. The only important thing was to save lives, and we knew senior leadership was fully invested.”

Mission Vayu ended up being a critical lifeline to India. Over three phases, the initiative secured and airlifted around 8,200 oxygen concentrators, 1,300 BiPAP positive airway pressure machines, 51,000 oximeters, and 37 AMTH's ICU-grade Alpha ventilators equipped with remote monitoring and control capabilities, for distribution to hospitals and COVID centres across the country.

Covid patient
A COVID-19 patient breathes with help from an oxygen concentrator from BJS. Oxygen concentrators contributed by Mission Vayu are distributed to organisations such as BJS, who in turn distribute them to beneficiaries on the ground. (Photo: Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana)

The intensity of the need is clear, and we are in a unique position to help. We have the know-how for securing the equipment, and for getting it to countries in need. It is evident that our networks can really help.

Kimberly Tan
Director, Investment

The Fight Continues

Temasek, through Temasek Foundation and its various partner networks, has also extended similar humanitarian assistance to other hard-hit parts of South Asia. Countries like Bangladesh and Nepal are among countries which have received oxygen and ventilation equipment, test kits and PCR testing machines, and surgical, N95, KN95 and reusable masks.

Back in India, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. These range from the continued spread of the virus in a mostly unvaccinated population, to keeping healthcare infrastructure from buckling under pressure.

“The intensity of the need is clear, and we are in a unique position to help. We have the know-how for securing the equipment, and for getting it to countries in need. It is evident that our networks can really help,” says Tan.

COVID-19 is a global problem that demands a global response, she adds. “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

The fight against COVID-19 continues. Learn about how we are doing our part to support those affected by this crisis.

Mission Vayu included contributions from Temasek and Temasek Foundation, as well as our portfolio companies CapitaLand, Olam International, and Singapore Airlines.

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