With the latest rush of Covid vaccines worldwide, PM Modi has more than fulfilled the pledge to share India’s expertise and resources in the global war against the virus.
As Covid-19 caseloads in India begin to sustain a downward spiral, it is time to examine the long-term impact of the pandemic not only on the country’s healthcare sector but also public health and how New Delhi has forged vital relations with the international community during this time.
On one hand, the pandemic has pushed India to fast-track its focus on pharma research and development (R&D) to become more independent – with an array of approved indigenous Covid-19 vaccines boosting the government’s confidence towards Make in India as well as supporting the scientific community.
With the pharma R&D momentum gaining strength, India is well poised for a new Pharma Research and Development policy to incentivize scientists based on the monetization of their innovations.
Such a policy would help shore up India’s rank on the Global Innovation Index – where it already moved up four places to 48 in the overall rankings across sectors in 2020. In addition, the government is seen as willing to focus on industry-academia linkage to translate research into the development and the commercialization of technologies while promoting research towards new drug discovery.
“India is working on infrastructure to accelerate R&D in India. Hopefully, the new policy will provide incentives that will accelerate R&D. It could act as a key milestone to turnaround the overall R&D environment within the Indian pharma industry,” said Prashant Khadayate, pharma analyst at GlobalData.
In 2019, India’s Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) outlined a drug discovery scheme – but a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for the active pharmaceutical ingredients was prioritised over the drug discovery scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to prioritise the pandemic response. The DoP even set up an inter-departmental committee to coordinate R&D activities undertaken by various top institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs), and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).
As Indian pharma majors such as Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila taste success in developing effective vaccines against the coronavirus, such institutional partnerships will prove to be the X-factor, said Khadayate.
On the other hand, the pandemic has also renewed the focus on public health – one where India continues to play a vital role. In their messages commemorating the 23rd anniversary of BIMSTEC’s establishment in June 2020, top leaders of the member countries expressed their commitment to working together and building better health resilience across the region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared then that India stood ready to share the country’s expertise, resources, capacities and knowledge with other countries in the region – a pledge that India has more than fulfilled with the latest rush of gifting vaccines around the world. India has thus not only consolidated and strengthened both its Act East Policy (AEP) and Neighborhood First Policy (NFP), through crisis collaborations, but also taken regional health-sector partnerships to a “new normal”.
“Given the highly endemic nature of communicable diseases and the porous borders between BIMSTEC countries, the grouping must focus on collective action in the health arena and invest resources into developing public health as a regional public good. Efforts are needed for a dedicated public-health cadre within member countries, consisting of personnel for public-health management to help health systems overcome challenges such as COVID-19,” said Oommen C. Kurian, Senior Fellow and Head of Health Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation.
Just as the progress of indigenous vaccines by Indian companies in a short turnaround time has proven their capability in the innovation space on par with global companies, in a similar way the Indian government is engaged in leveraging its healthcare goodwill, expertise and healing touch to further shape a robust public health apparatus globally with New Delhi at its epicentre.