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Fighting coronavirus through vaccines: India's global outreach
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 14 - 08 - 2021

India has often been called the pharmacy of the world owing to the one-fifth global production share of effective yet cheaply priced generic medicines.
Overall, around 62 percent of global vaccine demand has been fulfilled by Indian pharmaceutical sectors, dominating DPT, BCG, and measles vaccine segments. India despite the grueling pandemic remained committed to protecting not only its own citizens but also serve the crucial necessity of other countries responsibly.
The "Vaccine Maitri" or vaccine diplomacy initiative of India has been instrumental in fighting the vaccine apartheid globally. It is the extension of the spirit of service to humanity on long-cherished ideals of "Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam" signifying the whole world as "one collective family".
When India was fighting the second wave of coronavirus, it is important to note that the country's earlier generosity was promptly reciprocated by allies and other friendly nations who came together to provide the much-needed oxygen support, medicines, and essential tools asserting India's earlier contribution to the world in adversity. It also proved that not just small neighbors but resourceful countries such as the United States, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Australia, and powerful blocks like European Union stand in complete solidarity with India for saving lives in this humanitarian crisis.
At the onset of coronavirus crisis in 2020, Indian characteristics of cooperative humanism were practiced with supplies being provided of critical drugs like Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol, PPE/testing kits along with other medical items to more than a hundred developed, developing, and poor countries.
Despite multiple hurdles, the Indian pharmacy sector managed to coordinate efforts between public institutions and the private sector to produce two indigenous vaccine variants in India namely Covishield of the Serum Institute of India and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech.
It is pertinent for India to have at least one billion doses of vaccines for safeguarding its own vulnerable population but despite such pressing needs, India hasn't hesitated in sharing the burden of neighbors and smaller less-privileged countries.
Starting from the neighborhood, India's vaccine support extended far and wide, in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Indian Ocean littorals, the Caribbean, and many more covering the global sphere extensively.
As the world's largest vaccine-producing country, India has a self-abiding human commitment to save the entire humanity. For such endeavors, India has earlier pledged around $15 million for GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) and is contributing significantly to the WHO-backed COVAX mechanism (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility).
The equitable access principle has been endorsed by India's decision to supply the essential lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines as producing vaccines invariably entails international cooperation as seen in the case of Covishield which has been formed in collaboration with Oxford University and Astra Zeneca.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined that the "Vaccine Maitri" approach has been implemented to ensure that no one is left behind with the realization that health security at the global and national level is integral to overall human security. It has been reiterated globally at various forums and occasions that no one will be safe until everyone is safe but that was largely put into real action only by India, especially in the initial stages of the vaccine rollout.
Effectively, more than fifty least developed countries and small island countries from all around the world, members of the African Union, Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Pacific group, and many such nations have been provided vaccines by India. These groups have quite an influential voice at the United Nations and thus, Indian efforts were applauded strongly on several global platforms. Many have appreciated the gesture as a pure act of selfless solidarity in times of crisis that needs to be emulated by other vaccine-producing countries, particularly the developed ones.
Notably, many of these countries and vulnerable communities are completely dependent on external actors for the supply of vaccines.
Even countries with funds are unable to procure and receive vaccines through commercial arrangements. A handful of rich countries accounting for less than one-fifth of the world population has already cornered around three-fourth of the global vaccine production. The simple gesture of sharing vaccines by India stands tall in sharp contrast to these resourceful rich countries hoarding vaccines more than their need representing a classic case of self-interest prioritized vaccine nationalism.
In fact, India along with South Africa successfully fought the proposal for a temporary waiver of WTO TRIPS provisions (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) concerning coronavirus vaccines to enable large-scale production, affordable pricing, and easier supply worldwide. Supported by more than 120 countries, this proposal also won the crucial backing of the United States.
India's vaccine support has thus helped in cementing ties as well as mending some strained relations with neighbors such as the Kalapani border dispute with Nepal and the illegal migration debacle with Bangladesh. The goodwill earned has enhanced India's image and soft power salience to counter aggressive competition from China in the neighborhood and other regions.18 Beijing's political establishment has consistently interfered in the Indian neighborhood particularly with suspected ambitions as a trade partner, investor, technology provider, military equipment supplier, and development facilitator pushed forth by its debt-trap embedded wolf warrior diplomacy.
With the supply of COVID-19 vaccines now gaining momentum after a brief lull during the second wave, India's integrity and its "Make in India" capacity has got some serious credibility boost with the support from countries like Australia, Japan, and prospects of France bringing in the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI).
Further, under the QUAD outreach Indian manufacturing along with US technology support, Japanese financing, and Australian logistics capabilities can be utilized for effectively delivering up to 1 billion doses of vaccines to the ASEAN, Indo-Pacific and other countries beyond by the end of 2022.
As such, there are three kinds of vaccine supply provided by India: as bilateral grants; another, as part of the WHO-Covax commitments that India has been directing through GAVI Vaccine Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) dedicated for Immunization for All & the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and lastly, through the medium of commercial transactions. India even supplied more than 200,000 vaccines to UN peacekeepers taking the initiative on its own which was highly appreciated by the UN.
Vaccines as diplomatic currency have been contested with values of common good and common interest. There has been an indirect comparison of vaccine diplomatic efforts of India and China in many circles. In 2019, the Chinese stake in the UN-acquired medical produces was merely 1.9 percent, whereas the Indian share had been much higher at 21.9 percent.
Global media informed that out of the 155 WHO-prequalified vaccines, 44 were from India just four were accepted from China. For long, inadequate transparency has resulted in perpetual distrust of Chinese vaccines not just by governments but even by the public globally. In contrast, Indian vaccines are widely respected. Chinese vaccines are still doubted for their ineffectiveness and efficacy as countries receiving those vaccines have seen a surge in infections particularly with the spread of the Delta variant.
For all the efforts put in, Operation Vaccine Maitri is a breakthrough in the account of India's support to companion countries. The India-made COVID-19 vaccines are aptly characterized with the heartening Sanskrit rhyme of Sarve Santu Niramaya (may all the humanity be illness-free and healthy), stretched to the realms across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Not just vaccines, India also ensured medical personnel in several states are adequately trained to administer the vaccines effectively.
It is also apparent that "Vaccine Maitri" is part of India's character-building enterprise, not an opportunist profit-making exercise premised on certain forced conditions or meant to barter negotiations that extract benefits for the vaccine producing country. This is particularly significant as China reportedly asked countries to pick their consignments from Chinese airports by sending flights while India would offer countries vaccines by facilitating transportation from its end.
Many countries as recipients wholeheartedly expressed genuine gratitude towards India. Quoteworthy is Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro who with a gushing appreciation tweeted an image thanking the people and government of India portrayed through the analogy of epic hero Hanuman bringing the lifesaving medicinal herb of Sanjeevani or in this scenario the vaccines for dealing with the predicament of COVID-19.
The most outstanding feature of a pandemic-plagued world is the judgment of democratic governance that within days of authorization from regulatory experts India initiated in earnest the export of vaccines to help other nations. Not to underestimate the pressure of the humungous task of domestic vaccine rollout given the vast territory and massive population of India, the Indian health sector marched humbly towards maintaining a reasonable balance.
Undoubtedly, true global cooperation can be realized only when the world's scientific community, medical fraternity, industry, and academia come together to find lasting solutions to manage this pandemic. India, as the world's largest democracy & the second most populous country, remains committed in this journey in the spirit of togetherness, in the spirit of humanity. — Agencies


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