By Ash Narain Roy. Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
It is said, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. The world’s experience of wrestling with the Covid-19 fits neatly into this description. Coronavirus is no ordinary affliction. Some experts maintain, it is a geopolitical game-changer as it has pushed humanity into unchartered territory.
Suddenly the connected world found itself being wary of all its connections and began shutting down global connections. Many saw it as the last straw that could break the camel’s back of economic globalization. The initial response of some countries was to bring the border back as was the case of Europe. Slowly the realization dawned that getting together and working together to fight the scourge was the right response.
A global pandemic requires global solidarity and cooperation. Solidarity is an essential vaccine. It is this spirit that has guided India’s response. After all, no one could be safe until all are safe. It is in this spirit and solidarity that India-US cooperation to fight the pandemic needs to be understood and explained.
India has a long tradition of stretching its hands of help and solidarity to dozens of countries during disasters and calamities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, India has provided vaccines, PPE kits and rapid diagnostic kits to about 90 countries. India’s response has thus been robust and has won wide international acclaim.
It is this hand of friendship and solidarity that US President Joe Biden was referring to when after talks with Prime Minister Modi, he said, “India was there for us, and we will be there for them.” He further said in a tweet, “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.” India, on its part, had lifted restrictions on the export of hydroxychloroquine to the US.
President Biden pledged America’s full support to provide emergency assistance and resources in the fight against Covid-19. In specific terms, he announced the US would supply raw materials urgently needed for making the Covishield vaccine and oxygen generation equipment to bolster India’s efforts.
As far as India-US ties are concerned, a fundamental shift has occurred in recent years. Today, there is a wide-ranging partnership between the two countries covering the economy, energy sector, defence cooperation, high tech and space cooperation. In March this year, the focus of the QUAD Summit was how to combat Covid-19. India was looked upon as an important pillar to overcome the historic crisis thanks to its capabilities to manufacture vaccines and other kits. India was the vanguard in this Quad vaccine partnership.
India is a global pharma power as it has the capacity to manufacture 70 million doses of vaccines a month. The country provides some 20 % of the world’s drugs as well as more than 60 % of the world’s vaccines. India also believes in partnership. India and South Africa have appealed to WTO to temporarily relax patent rights on Covid vaccines. More than 70 former world leaders and 100 Nobel Laureates have appealed to the Biden administration to back the waiver. Several Congressmen too have lent their voice to this appeal.
The supplies from the US have begun arriving which include 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests. As reports suggest, the United States has also redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The nature of pandemics requires international cooperation for mitigation and containment. There was little global coordination during the 1918 influenza outbreak—which is frequently invoked as a comparison to COVID-19, but medicine, public health, epidemiology, and global governance have all come a long way since then. Oxygen cylinders and life-saving drugs have started pouring in from various countries like Russia, UK, Germany and others. The pandemic is a reminder that the world community works in solidarity with each other. Solidarity is the real vaccine.