40 countries pledge oxygen support to India

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40 countries pledge oxygen support to India
Family members mourn the death of a COVID-19 victim at Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH). But the global community have made a massive commitment to pulling India out of its moment of struggle with the lethal second pandemic wave.Courtesy: ANI

Countries have committed to standing behind India as it battles a devastating and lethal second Covid surge. It is the result of New Delhi’s global outreach to assist countries that were reeling under the initial Covid-19 outbreak with vaccine and pharma aid.

Even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to be vaccinated and exercise caution, stating that the "storm" of infections had shaken India, what is a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy pandemic surge is the fact that the global community is joining hands together to ensure that India is lifted out of its current predicament.

India has prioritised imports of oxygen, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Thursday, adding that 40 countries had pledged their support."We are talking about close to 550 oxygen generating plants that are going to come in from different sources from all over the world," Shringla told a news conference.

This, in a nutshell, has a lot to do with India’s reputation as a solid global citizen that garners respect for everything that it does and stands for. It is also the consequence of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s global outreach and his government’s intent to assist countries that were crumbling under the initial Covid-19 outbreak with vaccine and pharma aid. For the record, India had sent vaccines, under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ project, to at least 63 countries across the world in what is being recognised as a significant humanitarian gesture by any one single country.

The US has already despatched aid - raw materials for one of the COVID-19 vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to help India respond. "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," Biden said on Twitter after the White House announced a list of measures.

France, Britain and Germany have also thrown their collective weight in to assist India. Gestures of solidarity came in from the European Union (EU), with whom India is on the verge of sealing landmark trade agreements.

EU-France pitch in

The European Union will discuss its support to India in the upcoming EU-India Leaders' Meeting on May 8. President of the European Council Charles Michel said, "The #EU stands in solidarity with Indian people amidst resurgent #COVID19 pandemic. The fight against the virus is a common fight."

Assistance is also pouring into India via the ‘Oxygen Maitri’ track to replenish the dwindling supplies of oxygen in the country. Singapore and the UAE are air-lifting high-capacity tankers through transport planes owned by the Indian Air Force.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who enjoys warm ties with Indian prime minister Modi, stated that France was committed to stand with India in its hour of struggle. "I want to send a message of solidarity to the Indian people, facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. France is with you in this struggle, which spares no-one. We stand ready to provide our support," said French President Emmanuel Macron, as tweeted by Ambassador of France to India Emmanuel Lenain.

British prime minister Boris Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that they would explore all possible avenues to assist India. Britain and India stand on the verge of taking a ‘quantum leap’ in their bilateral ties specially in defence and trade. Even though Johnson cancelled his trip to India due to the Covid surge the two leaders are preparing for important discussions, albeit virtually, to carve out a roadmap for the future.

Oxygen express arrived at Kalamboli in order to provide oxygen for COVID-19 patients amid the surge in Coronavirus cases, in Navi Mumbai. The European Union will discuss its support to India in the upcoming EU-India Leaders' Meeting on May 8.
Oxygen express arrived at Kalamboli in order to provide oxygen for COVID-19 patients amid the surge in Coronavirus cases, in Navi Mumbai. The European Union will discuss its support to India in the upcoming EU-India Leaders' Meeting on May 8.Courtesy: ANI

Johnson put out a statement during a press briefing saying, "We're looking at what we can do to help and support the people of India.” He said India is a great partner and that the help could include providing ventilators or therapeutics.

True to their word a shipment of medical supplies from Britain, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in Delhi early on Tuesday.

Old friends and ally Russia has promised to provide Remdesivir and oxygen to India as well.Russian pharmaceutical firm Pharmasyntez said it could ship up to 1 million packs of remdesivir to India by end-May once it received the Russian government's approval.

Assistance is also pouring into India via the ‘Oxygen Maitri’ track to replenish the dwindling supplies of oxygen in the country. Singapore and the UAE are air-lifting high-capacity tankers through transport planes owned by the Indian Air Force. Twenty-three mobile oxygen generation plants will also be airlifted from Germany to be used in Armed Forces Medical Service hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients.

For the record, neighbours China and Pakistan have also made similar announcements of assistance towards the ferocious second wave that has hit India.

Strong virus variant

The virus variant that has engulfed parts of the country is extremely lethal leaving physicians and the healthcare system in a state of helplessness. Epidemiologists and virologists say more infectious variants of the virus, including an Indian one known as B.1.6.1.7, have fuelled the ferocious surge.

Doctors at New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have found that one patient is now infecting up to nine in 10 contacts, compared with up to four last year. While the administration and state governments are doing all they can to thwart the impact, in the face of elections in certain parts of the country, it is believed that the surge could pean mid-May when the daily count for infections could possibly reach up half a million.

Epidemiologists and virologists say more infectious variants of the virus, including an Indian one known as B.1.6.1.7, have fuelled the ferocious surge.

According to reports by Reuters, Gilead Sciences Inc committed to sending at least 450,000 vials of its antiviral drug remdesivir to India and help boost production.

Remdesivir is approved in India for restricted emergency use to treat severe COVID-19 cases, but hospitals are facing supply shortages due to indiscriminate use and the drug is being sold at over 10 times its listed price in the black market.

The shortage has raised concerns about hoarding as people queue up outside clinics and hospitals to buy the drug and millions take to social media to secure supplies.

An employee works at a factory of Pharmasyntez pharmaceutical firm, which produces the remdesivir antiviral drug called Remdeform, in Russia. Earlier this month, India banned the export of the drug and the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) used to make it.
An employee works at a factory of Pharmasyntez pharmaceutical firm, which produces the remdesivir antiviral drug called Remdeform, in Russia. Earlier this month, India banned the export of the drug and the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) used to make it.Courtesy: Reuters

The issue around remdesivir

Earlier this month, India banned the export of the drug and the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) used to make it.

Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month. Gilead said that all of them were scaling up their batch sizes and adding new manufacturing facilities and local contract manufacturers. Doubts have been expressed about the drug's effectiveness in treating COVID-19. The World Health Organization last November issued a conditional recommendation against the use of remdesivir in hospitalised patients, but India has continued to use it. A senior Indian government health official said last week that remdesivir is only for those patients who need oxygen. "I am appealing that the hype over this medicine should be decreased, and it should be used in a rational manner," Vinod Kumar Paul said.

The government has, in the meanwhile, issued instructions to the armed forces to step in to help tackle the surge. Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said that oxygen would be released from armed forces reserves and retired medical personnel would join struggling health facilities. Local corporates like the Tata Group, Reliance Industries Ltd and Jindal Steel and Power, have stepped forward to help supply medical oxygen.

India plans to open up vaccination to all adults from May 1.

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