Countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Mauritius are raring to kickstart the vaccination programme for their citizens and India has stepped in yet again as a gesture of goodwill.
Having orchestrated probably the biggest Covid-19 fightback in the world and then ensuring that its citizens are on the receiving end of the vaccine, India have now signalled their commitment to the wellbeing of its neighbours by stating that it would issue an “emergency use authorization” under the grant-in-aid restricted use programme to ship vaccines across its borders.
When seen in its proper context it is a very significant move given that while many of the high-income nations have kickstarted their vaccine rollout the future looks negative for those who are struggling to catch up. In short for many of these nations widespread vaccination is sadly a long-term ambition.
The importance of the vaccine simply cannot be overstated enough in the face of a virus that is constantly mutating and sending infection and mortality rates spiralling up.
Accessibility therefore is the key, especially for low-income countries. India has the ability to manufacture huge doses of the serum but it also has to take care of a huge population given that its stated aim is to vaccinate 300 million by August this year. But that’s still a quarter of its overall population.
The enormity of the global vaccination programme against the pandemic can be put in perspective through Adar Poonawalla’s, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII), comments, ““For everyone on this planet – or at least 90% – to get it, it’s going to be at least 2024.”
The key to India’s gesture of regional goodwill is that current shipments would be gratis and thereafter countries would not pay any more than what Indian citizens pay, when they are capable of reaching a financial settlement for their shipment of doses.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ensured that a modicum of fairness has thus been established in the global vaccine rollout. Modi’s regional outreach is all the more significant given that many nations have been jumping the queue to purchase the serum. High-income nations have put in and received their orders by cutting deals with manufacturers. They are now being joined by middle-income countries like Argentina, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey who have ensured that approaches have been made to manufacturing countries like India, China and Russia.
While battling the ravages of the pandemic internally it is estimated that India has spent at least $16 million on pharma aid – which includes millions of doses of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) tablets to the furthest parts of the world, test kits and various other medical assistance to some 90 countries who have been battling the pandemic. A total of 12 manufacturing units in India were generating more than 15 million HCQ tablets daily which is enough to supply to the entire world during the pandemic. To name but a few, countries like the United States, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Seychelles and Mauritius, other African nations and Indian Ocean islands have a lot to thank India for.
India’s assistance has been offered without any hyperbole or publicity. The global community will label this as India making a statement of intent in post-Covid diplomacy where it has shown that it is capable of addressing any global challenge - be it geo-political or a pandemic.