India as G20 leader can guide the world in fighting Covid reemergence
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
As Covid-19 threatens the world again, what with rising numbers of cases in China, Japan, and the USA, the Indian model of fightback against the pande-mic–extensive vaccination covering the entire population and strict disciplined practice of Covid appropriate behavioural norms–is perhaps what the world may be needing.
The Great India Vaccination Story contains pointers that the world can benefit from, say from the experiences in the vaccination journey as to how a country like India managed to overcome the challenges that dogged the gigantic exercise–vaccine hesitancy and fake news, to cite examples. Challenges of scientific and logistics can but be overcome with capital expendi- ture and diplomacy, but the internal challenges emanating from people issues require entirely different specific solutions, that may differ from country to country, and yet broadly are of similar in nature. Essentially, they entail information management and erecting governance delivery mechanisms that help fighting the pandemic with a purposeful focus.
Now, the remerging Covid threat presents a chance to India after immediately assuming the leadership of G20 grouping earlier this month. Rising number of cases, and the faster acceleration and spread of the virus in few countries, including in the neighborhood, makes the case for India to come out strongly with its learnings and use the position as G20 leader to persuade the other Nations to come together and work out a common strategy to fight the pandemic in the overall interests of mankind.
India can use the goodwill generated from the Government’s Vaccine Maitri initiative to nudge the global big economies to help pool resources for a common fight against the pandemic, which necessitates vaccine equity or equitable distribution of life saving vaccines against Covid, and vaccines against other regular diseases, some of which are also remerging in a big way in the low-income countries of Africa and Asian continents.
The latest WHO Global Vaccine Market Report shows inequitable distribution of vaccines, for Covid-19 and for other diseases like Pneumococcal Pneumonia, Measles, Typhoid, Dengue, Malaria, TB, Yellow Fever, Cholera, the magnitude of the challenge for India as G20 leader and the world becomes that much clear. Now India can cite its Vaccine Maitri initiative as a model for global cooperation in the erection of robust global health services delivery systems as the G20 leader. For sure, evolving an equitable distribution mechanism for essential vaccines and medicinal drugs is the need of the hour.
Moreover, with India as a major vaccine manufacturing hub, can offer its capabilities for the global good.
It is because of the country’s proven prowess in vaccine manufacturing, developed over the past few decades, that India could successfully mount the battle against Covid and win, by developing a vaccine in real quick time, in fact not just one but few other vaccines as well, and in doing so became only the fifth country in the world to achieve this feat.
Yes, the current global situation vis-à-vis the pandemic, demands that the heavily interlinked and interdependent world to cooperate and collaborate in vaccine development and distribution of the vaccines, and of critical health care services on a need basis, rather than just based on affordability factor.
Now this is easier said than done, as countries like India, discovered few roadblocks that bog the vaccine development and manufacturing processes. And these need to be ironed out by creating an enabling environment that needs overhaul of existing regulatory environment and building raw material supply chains that function well.
Now, this for sure would also require reworking trade and licensing arrangements between countries, which India as the G20 leader should take the initiative and drive the group of Nations to work this out for the benefit of all the member countries.
India as the G20 leader need to work with the developed West for ensuring the supply chains of critical raw materials on which they are sitting. The supply side constraints are what make the difference.
Say for example, companies in the US can develop a vaccine faster than say the ones in India or other countries because of the bottlenecks in raw material supplies.
Another very significant task that India as the G20 leader should assign itself is to strive to get the member Nations work out regulatory harmonization among themselves, which would smoothen the developing, manufacturing and distributing the vaccines globally, with a focus on reaching the medicines to the neediest at the right time in the correct quantities they need.
The world today needs a strong, efficient, and transparent regulatory process and infrastructure that will help fast-track vaccine development–through Regulatory Harmonization and Streamlining of Clinical Trial Applications (CTA) along with a working partnership between a global body like the WHO and National regulatory authorities.
India can and should take the onus on itself to get the member countries to work out a plan to help vaccine manufacturers, anywhere in the world, to become able to negotiate the practical difficulties they may be facing, like paucity of funding, regulatory and other limitations posed by intellectual property monopolies, limited technology transfer, lack of access to data, infrastructure, and raw materials.
Why ensuring good public health and fight against traditional diseases and outbreaks of virus is important is because health is the fulcrum for sustainable human development and is an essential contributing factor for economic growth, and health is one of the major indicators of each country’s progress in achieving sustainable development.
Covid-19 presented the world with an opportunity to understand the vulnerabilities and gaps in the global health ecosystem, and today the G20 leadership gives India the chance to make a significant and lasting contribution in this arena. Given the current context of the Covid-19 situation in China and few other countries, the next public health emergency or a pandemic does not boil down to the question of “if” but rather the question of “when”. India has a chance to address some of the common developmental challenges faced by global actors.
Already India has declared its intention to achieve convergence in discussions across various multilateral fora engaged in health cooperation, and work towards integrated action in three priority areas – health emergencies prevention preparedness and response, strengthening cooperation in pharmaceutical sector, and digital health innovations and solutions for universal health coverage and improve healthcare service delivery.