Script: KAUSHIK ROY, AIR: News Analyst
Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla addressing a webinar “India: the world’s pharmacy expands its reach in global health” observed that the global role played by India in responding to the pandemic and addressing the global demand for pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and, now for vaccines is an excellent demonstration of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s broader vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ – a self-reliant India that that adds to the global supply especially in critical commodities, and a manufacturer the world can depend on. It was as early as in April 2020 that Prime Minster Modi took the initiative of proposing a G-20 Summit to discuss the COVID-19 crisis afflicting the world. It was in that meeting that the Indian Prime Minister drew attention of the world’s most powerful leaders of the need for a global response to the pandemic.
India’s response to the pandemic on the domestic front was proactive from the very early stages of the spread of the virus. Mr. Shringla said, India moved to full lock-down on the 55th day of the outbreak in India, with around 600 confirmed cases. Other countries undertook full lock-downs only after caseloads rose beyond several thousands. Despite a nationwide lock-down, continuity of essential services was maintained and essential goods delivered to India’s remote areas during this period. This lock-down and close observation of data helped us upgrade our capacity in terms of dedicated COVID hospitals, isolation and ICU beds.
This period saw the launch of “Vande Bharat” Mission to bring back the Indian nationals stranded abroad. This has been the largest and most complex exercise ever undertaken by the government for repatriation of our nationals. We also assisted over 120 nations in safely evacuating their nationals stranded in India during the lock-down.
The Foreign Secretary said, at the initiative of Prime Minister Modi, leaders of SAARC countries came together in March last year to work on a coordinated response to COVID-19. At this meeting, the Prime Minister proposed setting up of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC to which India has contributed US$ 10 million. This Fund has been used to deliver urgent medical supplies, equipment and humanitarian assistance to our neighbours.
Speaking at the Global Vaccine Summit last year, the Indian Prime Minister had noted that India had tried to live up to its teaching of seeing the world as one family by sharing medicines with other countries, forging a common response strategy in its immediate neighbourhood and providing specific support to countries that sought it, while also protecting India’s own vast population.
India ensured supply of essential medicines during the critical phase of the pandemic. Delivery of these medicines cemented our reputation as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’ and as a responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains, said the Foreign Secretary.
Mr. Shringla said, India provided medical assistance, which included essential drugs, test kits, protection gear, etc., to over 150 countries. We undertook a number of medical supply missions across the world overcoming daunting logistical challenges during the lock-down. India launched Mission SAGAR, under which an Indian Naval Ship was deployed to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles to deliver coronavirus related assistance. At their request, Rapid Response Medical Teams were deployed by India to help Maldives, Kuwait, Mauritius and Comoros deal with the pandemic.
India launched her national vaccination drive on 16 January this year. On 20 January, the first tranche of Indian vaccines landed in Bhutan and Maldives and the next few days in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Seychelles and Mauritius. Since the launch of Vaccine Maitri, India has supplied 64 million doses of vaccines to 82 countries. This includes supplies under grant, commercial contracts and the COVAX facility. We have also facilitated supply of vaccines to UN health workers and are gifting vaccines to UN Peacekeepers.
The Foreign Secretary said the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the rise of India as an Atmanirbhar partner is good for the world. India expects to see more global players cooperating with counterparts in the pharma and healthcare sectors. He concluded by saying, India has the unique advantage of a robust IT and IT services sector to back up the delivery of health services, as seen in the CoWin portal for Covid vaccinations. As health security and health supply chains move up on the priority lists of the world’s governments and increasingly adapt to data-driven health technologies, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is perfectly poised to embrace the emerging opportunities.