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India leads the way to better health and wealth

Mann Ki Baat @100India leads the way to better health and wealth

On 23 March 2020, World Health Organisation Director Dr Michael J. Ryan said that India has tremendous capacities and had previously led the world in eradicating two killers, smallpox and polio. He said that the future of the pandemic will depend on what happens in India and China with huge populations. Nearly three years later, the difference in Covid management between these two nations and the consequences to world health and wealth is as clear as day and night.

All international flights to India were banned from 22 March 2020. Two days later, PM Modi said: “Even those nations with the best of medical facilities could not contain the virus and that social distancing is the only option to mitigate it. The carelessness of a few can put the entire country in grave jeopardy.” He called for a complete lockdown of the entire nation. India succeeded due to good health policy, governance, and implementation. During the lockdown the manufacture of essentials like medical equipment, oxygen, vaccines, and medicines was massively scaled up, agriculture activities, logistics, food and health supplies, and all essential services were facilitated and financial help was digitally extended, reducing the impact on human life.

In a combined effort by the government and the private sectors, vaccines against Covid 19 were developed, tested, and provided in 1 year instead of the usual 10 years. In January 2021, India launched the world’s largest universal immunization program, to protect a population of 1.4 billion. India used its online portal Co-WIN which enabled citizens to register and book an appointment for vaccination, anytime and anywhere. Free, effective, and safe Indian vaccines, Co-WIN, good communication, and a very experienced nationwide vaccination network of personnel, logistics, and equipment that did not waste vaccines; overcame vaccine hesitancy without compulsion. PM Modi publically took shots of the Indian Covaxin to endorse its efficacy and safety. India has one of the lowest vaccine hesitancy in the world. Over 88% of the adult population was protected with 2.2 billion doses of vaccine.

Extensive testing facilities, including genome sequencing at INSACOG, a multi-laboratory, multi-agency, pan-India network, experience in effective contact tracing, and monitoring, quarantining and managing containment zones, participation of public and private hospitals, also helped India limit confirmed cases to under 45 million, and deaths to under a half million. With the experience of managing the pandemic till now and most of the population protected by effective vaccination or actual infection, India is now better equipped to manage the new Omicron variants. India is also in a position to help and guide other nations to manage new waves of Covid-19.

Under the “vaccine maitri” programme, Indian vaccines were gifted or supplied to numerous nations and the Co-WIN digital platform was made open-source for global access and use. Presidents Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and PM Boris Johnson after initially dismissing Covid-19 as just flu, eventually sought Indian help for drugs and vaccines. India by then had supplied essential drugs to 55 coronavirus-hit countries including the United States. Former British PM Boris Johnson and many other heads of government were vaccinated with Indian-made Covishield. On 21 April 2021, the European Commission (EC) met in Brussels to discuss export controls on vaccines amidst severe shortages. German Chancellor Angela Merkel lamented that Europe had “allowed” India to become the world’s major pharmaceutical producer and hoped Indian supplies would not be restricted. At the UNGA General Debate from 21-27 September 2021, several world leaders hailed India for the “early and meaningful gift of vaccines”. India had by then exported over 66 million vaccine doses to nearly 100 countries. Despite the needs of its large population, India served the world.

China’s unscientific “Xi”ro Covid policy and a large vulnerable population have led to zero health and zero wealth. The European Union, the USA, and many other nations blocked Indian and South African requests to the World Trade Organisation to suspend intellectual property rights over Coronavirus medical supplies. Meanwhile WHO delayed recognition of Indian vaccines, and China tried to undermine Indian vaccine exports while promoting ineffective Chinese vaccines and medical supplies at extortionist rates. The president of Ghana said, “One unfortunate development appears to be the recent measures on entry into some countries in Europe, which suggest that the Covishield vaccine manufactured in India is not recognised by these countries.” During this grave global emergency in which it was often stated that “no one is safe till everyone is safe”, India helped the entire world in the true spirit of “One Earth One Family One Future”, India’s theme for the G20 presidency.

The pandemic, wars, terror attacks, climate change-caused disasters, debt traps, and disrupted global supply chains have led to global misery. India has been promoting preventive health, Yoga, Ayurveda, resilient global supply chains, especially as the global pharmacy, inclusive multilateralism, sustainable lifestyle and growth, and environment-friendly policies. Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure Society (CDRIS), International Solar Alliance, and the digital open multilateral payment system RuPay are Indian initiatives. The Indian diaspora is the backbone of health services and the economy of many nations.

We urgently need to reform the UNGC, WHO, WTO, and other multinational bodies. A 21st-century resilient multilateral mechanism is desirable that can investigate international terror, crimes, origins of this pandemic, and other preventable disasters, negotiate global disputes, and can enforce justice even when powerful nations, MNCs, or entities like the big pharma, energy groups, food, financial, logistics, trading, and tech monopolies are involved. The global north-south divide is getting replaced by an autocracy-democracy divide. The main obstruction is communist China which is insecure of democratic forces, especially among Chinese. CCP considers the biggest democracies India and the US as its main enemies and autocrats as its best friends.
Three years after it leaked and spread the Covid19 virus globally, China is again putting humanity in jeopardy. At least this time, the rest of the world should unite and declare entire China as a containment zone and block all travel and trade in and out of China. Pariah status and financial loss are the only languages that CCP will understand. As a global role model, health leader, and G20 president, India is uniquely qualified to promote egalitarian international rules of cooperation, trade, and finance; democracy, and equitable inclusive multilateralism to ensure international peace, health, and wealth.

Dr P.S. Venkatesh Rao is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon, Bengaluru.

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