PM Modi’s vaccine diplomacy

By Dr KK Aggarwal

During the pandemic, India proved to the whole world that it has the best medical facilities as compared to most developed countries. As far as communicable disease management is concerned, India is right on top. It even reached out to the whole world in supplying Covid-19 medicines such as hydroxychloroquine.

Not only medicines, India even supplied diagnostic kits and medical equipment, ranging from masks, gloves and ventilators, to other countries. Many were given as gifts to partner nations. India has also conducted virtual camps in training healthcare workers, especially on how to conduct the tests. It has worked day and night to develop a vaccine to eradicate this pandemic.

On January 16, India began with its vaccination drive and close to six lakh frontline and healthcare workers were vaccinated. It has received the nod for two vaccines for emergency use authorisation. As it is one of the world’s biggest drug and vaccine makers, an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring them.

In addition, the government has asked for 45 lakh more doses from the makers of Covaxin, and even allowed the manufacturers to provide vaccines to other countries. The first batch of one lakh doses of Covishield vaccine has been delivered to Bhutan and Maldives.

With two doses of the vaccine to be given to the general population, the government has rightly directed manufacturers to now focus on providing 30 crore doses to high-risk populations in the coming months.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested the creation of a regional platform for collecting and studying data on the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine. Further, he suggested a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses for travelling within the region during the health emergency and a regional air ambulance for medical contingencies. This step will enhance the “spirit of collaboration” among South Asian and Indian Ocean island countries and will be “a valuable takeaway from this pandemic”.

This proposal, like others, has been welcomed by all countries, including Pakistan. Moreover, they have sought a structured discussion for regional cooperation on these proposals.

Addressing a workshop on “Covid-19 Management: Experience, Good Practices and Way Forward” attended by health leaders, experts and officials of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and India, Modi said: “Today, the hopes of our region and the world are focused on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit.”

He added: “When Covid-19 hit the world last year, many experts voiced special concern about our densely populated region. But, from the very beginning, we all met this challenge with a coordinated response. In March last year, we were the first to come together for recognising the threat and committing to fight it together. Many other regions and groups followed our early example.”

He said that the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund was created to meet the immediate costs of fighting the pandemic and that India had shared its resources medicines, PPEs and testing equipment. Above all, it had shared the most valuable commodity, knowledge, through collaborative training of its health workers.

“Through webinars, online courses and IT portals, we shared experiences and learned from each other’s best practices in testing, infection control and medical waste management. We developed our own best practices based on what worked best for us. Each one of us contributed immensely to this pooling of knowledge and experience,” he said. “Through our openness and determination, we have managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. This deserves to be applauded.”

He asked the audience to raise their ambitions further by considering the creation of a special visa scheme for India’s doctors and nurses so that they can travel quickly within the region during health emergencies on the request of the receiving country.

“Can our civil aviation ministries coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies? Can we create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among our populations? Can we similarly create a regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology, for preventing future pandemics?” asked the prime minister.

He also suggested that the countries share successful public health policies and schemes. “From India, our Ayushman Bharat and Jan Arogya schemes may be useful case-studies for our friends in the region. Such collaboration can become the pathway for greater regional cooperation among us in other areas too. After all, we share so many common challenges climate change, natural disasters, poverty, illiteracy, and social and gender imbalances.”

He said that if we focus on all that unites us, our region can overcome not only the present pandemic, but other challenges too.

All this will increase medical tourism too. Therefore, vaccine diplomacy has increased the credibility and goodwill of India.

—The writer is President, Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, and former National President, IMA
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