India’s vaccine diplomacy : The Tribune India

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India’s vaccine diplomacy

Opportunity to carry out exercise imaginatively to strengthen ties with other nations

India’s vaccine diplomacy

Reaching out: Developing countries are turning to India, the largest producer of vaccines in the world, to meet their urgent needs. PTI

G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University & former High Commissioner to Pakistan

The Covid-19 pandemic has thus far afflicted around 96 million people worldwide. The death toll has crossed 2 million. It is now internationally recognised that this pandemic has been handled responsibly, maturely, and with wisdom in India, and indeed, in many countries across the world. The last global pandemic that humanity had faced ended around a century ago. The 1918 ‘pneumonic’ pandemic led to the death of an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide. An estimated 17-18 million people died in India. There has, in present times, been a global effort since April 2020, to jointly address the challenges posed by the Covid-19 virus.

The past nine months have been marked by unprecedented efforts to get people across the world to respond to the challenges posed by the virus by observing personal practices like washing hands regularly and wearing face masks. This has been accompanied by the adoption of measures for personal testing of millions of people to ascertain if they have been infected. With growing production of new vaccines to deal with the epidemic, one can be confident that while the world has been shaken badly by these developments, there are now good prospects for the threats from the virus being contained and then eliminated. This optimism arises from the fact that scientists across the world have worked tirelessly to develop vaccines. But, even as this process proceeds, one has to be prepared for new strains of the virus emerging with the passage of time. One has, however, to also recognise the fact that rich countries have done little to help developing countries to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The pandemic is now at a stage where the largest number of cases and casualties are in some of the most advanced countries. The US has suffered the largest number of fatalities in the world, with over 24 million cases and 4 lakh deaths. Even European countries have faced extraordinarily high casualties. The challenges have, however, been met most successfully by countries like Japan, China and Vietnam in East Asia. The New Year has begun with relief and optimism. India, with the recoveries rising, is also facing reduced numbers of new cases. Moreover, we are now hoping, and are reasonably confident, that this trend will continue, especially in Asia. Moreover, thanks to some innovative methods we adopted, the contraction in India’s GDP in the current financial year has been estimated at a manageable 7.4%. But what are the trends one can see in the coming years? One can hope that while there may be ups and downs, there will be enough momentum in coming months, to achieve a growth rate of 7.6% in the coming financial year. But the pandemic has brought significant changes in lifestyles and working practices, which are going to be radically different from what we observed earlier, thanks to the innovative practices adopted at the height of the pandemic.

With the pandemic holding the global centre stage, India has become the focus of growing world attention. The affluent western world, notably the US and Europeans, are focused almost exclusively on their own problems. There appears to be relatively little interest or intent in helping developing countries, who would, in any case, find US and European vaccines unaffordable. In a short while, however, India, which is the largest producer of vaccines in the world, is the country to which fellow developing countries are turning to meet their urgent needs. New Delhi has set itself the target of immunising 300 million of its citizens by July, from both its AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech Industries. While initial exports were scheduled for Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, commitments have also been made for larger supplies to SAARC neighbours like the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. This is an occasion for India to earn the long-term goodwill of its immediate neighbours. One hopes this exercise is carried out imaginatively, for also strengthening our relations with other countries in our extended neighbourhood, across the Indian Ocean. We would be well advised to finance such shipments from our assistance programmes for cash-strapped neighbouring countries, which desperately need such assistance.

Another feature of the past year which merits mention is the unity and determination with which India responded to the Chinese aggression in Ladakh, amidst the pandemic. The movement of Chinese troops across the LAC commenced, almost immediately after China attained some control of the Wuhan virus. India was then preparing to meet the health hazards ahead. The strategic aim of the Chinese assault was quite clear. It was to threaten crucial lines of communication to the strategic airfield in Daulat Beg Oldie and, thereafter, move into the Karakoram Pass. It was the resolute resistance from India which thwarted this move. Moreover, just before the ceasefire became effective, India had taken control of strategic hill-tops along the southern banks of the Pangong Lake. One sincerely hopes that 2021 will see the de-escalation of tensions on our borders, on the basis of ‘mutual and equal security’, as enunciated by the Army Chief.

Despite the tragic loss of lives in India, arising from the pandemic, we could look back on India’s achievements and successes in the past year with satisfaction. Like in the past, the people of India reacted to the pandemic in a way that was remarkable. Displaced workers from large cities, who fled to their homes, suffered the most. This could have been anticipated earlier, and dealt with more imaginatively. Workers in large numbers have now steadily returned to their places of work. The fortitude displayed by the displaced workers and their families needs to be recorded imaginatively for future generations. India can also draw satisfaction from how it is responding to requests for vaccines from countries ranging from Brazil to Bangladesh.

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