India must first take care of itself and then the world
A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) collects a swab sample from a woman for Covid-19 RT-PCR test. With rising infection rates in certain parts of the country India will need to address its domestic concerns before once again coming to the rescue of the global community.Courtesy: Reuters

India must first take care of itself and then the world

Rising infection rates in certain parts of the country confirms that the authorities need to renew their fight against the pandemic, and adopt an aggressive national vaccination drive, even though India’s global vaccine pushout continues to take place unabated.

India’s goal of supplying the world with the Covid-19 vaccine is now a demonstrated fact, given that over 70 nations have benefited from the world’s largest vaccine maker. But a temporary hold on the AstraZeneca vaccine, being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), due to a rising internal demand, following the rise in infections, justifies the argument that India also needs to attend to its domestic challenges.

According to reports, the Serum Insitute was due to deliver 90 million vaccine doses to COVAX over March and April and, while it was not immediately clear how many would be diverted for domestic use, programme facilitators are preparing for delays.

It would behove richer nations to ensure that they do not curtail their funding programmes for the benefit of poorer countries who also desperately need the vaccination drive to be extended to them without unwarranted delays.

A lot is at stake as the Indian government focuses on an aggressive domestic vaccination programme to arrest infection rates and ensure that the economy, which has witnessed an enthusiastic rebound since the nationally imposed lockdown was lifted, does not slow down. That being said, it would behove richer nations to ensure that they do not curtail their funding programmes for poorer countries who desperately need the vaccination drive to be extended to them without unwarranted delays.

Despite India’s decision to focus on the infection rates at home UNICEF, a distributing partner of COVAX, said that vaccine deliveries could resume by May.

Internal challenges

Given the challenges – the size of the country, the huge population and logistical issues India’s vaccine roll-out stands out as an example to the world. It is using every effective method at its disposal to certify that citizens across the country stand to benefit. After a slow beginning the immunisation campaign picked up at a steady pace, thanks to effective procedures, the opening of more vaccination centres and the use of social media, to ensure that a new infection wave could be thwarted. More than 3.2 million people got vaccinated on a single day last week, one of the world's highest rates, while health authorities around the country called for more doses to be put at their disposal as demand picked up.

A senior citizen in rural India being administered a vaccine. The scale of India’s internal programme is astounding given all the challenges the authorities have to surmount.
A senior citizen in rural India being administered a vaccine. The scale of India’s internal programme is astounding given all the challenges the authorities have to surmount. Courtesy: ANI

The scale of India’s vaccination programme is astounding given that with a population of 1.35 billion, it is home to nearly 15% of humanity and coping with the third-highest overall infection tally in the world at 11.8 million cases. In all, about 161,000 people have died. At more than 53 million, India has administered the most doses after the United States and China.

The logistical challenges of the vaccination programme would have left most other countries reeling from the effort as health workers cope with challenging terrain, poor internet connectivity and patchy transport. But India has set a benchmark on how to fight the pandemic with multiple strategies. Today most citizens can simply walk into an inoculation centre.

The central and state governments are galvanised into fighting the rise in infection rates. Another lockdown is not being seen as an option by the business communities and industrialists despite the fact that officials in Maharashtra were considering imposing stricter curbs on Thursday. Anand Mahindra, who heads Mahindra, India's autos-to-technology conglomerate, tweeted out his sentiments saying, “The people a lockdown hurts most are the poor, migrant workers & small businesses. The original lockdowns were essentially to buy time to build up hospital/health infrastructure. Let’s focus on resurrecting that & on avoiding mortality."

Infection rates are falling

Reuters reports that the tally fell below the 60,000 mark after three days with Maharashtra accounting for more than 31,000 of the 56,211 cases reported in the last 24 hours. Deaths in the last 24 hours stood at 271, and 162,114 have died so far in the pandemic, the health ministry has stated.

It is time for global leaders to accept the reality that the pandemic is a global issue and not just a domestic development. India has shown the way by shipping millions of doses across the world, but it can only take care of the world after it takes care of itself.

The government’s goal is to immunise at least 300 million by the end of August. The authorities have guaranteed a roll out that will expand the campaign to senior citizens and those who are medically susceptible to everyone over the age of 45 by April 1. The nature of the vaccines being developed in India aids this process as the AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech shots can be stored in normal temperatures. The government is also considering adding Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to its arsenal. Ingenious approaches are not in short supply either as health workers struggling with internet outages now set aside data and upload it all in one go rather than holding up vaccinations as they wait for the connection to be restored.

To boost enthusiasm and cancel out irrational attitudes, health centres are also setting up selfie booths and urging people getting shots to spread the positive message of immunisation on social media, via selfies, in order to create a powerful and positive social narrative.

The temporary halt in global supplies actually puts the spotlight on the rest of the global community who need to take notice of the predicament of smaller nations and address their concerns. Fixing the global pandemic is not just India’s responsibility alone. While the curb in vaccine exports is being felt by richer countries that are reliant on foreign manufacturing it has come to light that certain nations are using vaccines for diplomacy, some are trying to prioritise and others are buying three to five times as many doses compared to their population.

It is time for global leaders to accept that the pandemic is a worldwide issue and not just a domestic episode. India has shown the way by shipping millions of doses across the world, but it can only take care of the world after it takes care of itself. Afterall, a self-reliant India is good for the world.

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