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Vaccine Maitri: Visionary step or grave miscalculation

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Shivani Bhat

As a recent surge in coronavirus cases continues to plague India and choke its healthcare system, nations around the world have been rushing to help India to alleviate COVID-19 crisis. Several countries have promised to send shipments of COVID-19 relief material over the next few weeks. Coronavirus cases in India are hitting daily record with country reporting a daily case surge of more than 4,00,000 infections. India’s COVID-19 tally has, meanwhile, exceeded the grim figure of 20 million infections.
As India faces acute shortage of vaccines and medical supplies, questions are being raised over the handling of COVID-19 by Union Government particularly for its ‘Vaccine Matri’ initiative wherein India exported a huge stock of its ‘Covishield’ vaccine resulting in severe shortages of vaccine back home thus hampering vaccination drive for its citizens.
There has been severe criticism of India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative in some quarters as the crisis at home has unfolded in the past few week. Reasonable questions can be asked about the need for India to supply vaccines and other products to the world at large when there was a crisis at home.
While, some of the arguments against the Vaccine Matri initiative are valid, the current global response to India grim situation can’t be separated from India’s proactive role in the early stages of the pandemic worldwide. It is heartening to see the massive global response at a critical moment in India’s fight against COVID-19 and some credit for this must be given to Vaccine Maitri initiative of Indian Government. India’s friends and partners have stepped up to the challenge of managing the second wave hitting India. This show of support from around the world is a morale booster for a nation facing an unprecedented crisis. But it also underscores the role that India has played over the last year in keeping the global supply chains open.
Here’s a list of the countries that have started sending relief material to India:

  1. United States: The United States has so far sent three shipments of emergency relief material and several more are expected over the next week. The US has vowed to send supplies worth more than $100 million to assist India in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. United Kingdom: The United Kingdom has sent three shipments of over 400 oxygen concentrators to India so far. The UK is shipping over “600 pieces of vital medical equipment” which will include 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators, and 20 manual ventilators.
  3. United Arab Emirates: The UAE has sent a consignment of COVID-19 relief material including 157 ventilators, 480 BiPAPs, six cryogenic oxygen containers and other medical supplies to India. Saudi Arabia is also shipping liquid oxygen to India.
  4. Russia: Two Russian flights carrying oxygen concentrators, ventilators, medicines and other essential medical equipment landed in India earlier this week. Russian aid is aimed at helping India with the shortages of Remdesivir drug as well as providing oxygen concentrators and generators.
  5. Taiwan: Taiwan’s first batch of aid to India to help it fight a surging increase in COVID-19 infections left for New Delhi on Sunday, consisting of 150 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen cylinders.
  6. France: A special cargo flight brought 28 tonnes of medical equipment worth more than Rs 17 crore from France as part of the country’s first phase of the ‘solidarity mission’ launched by President Emmanuel Macron to help India fight the pandemic. The French shipment included eight large oxygen plants, 28 ventilators and 200 electric syringe pumps. The French embassy said each of the eight plants can continuously supply oxygen to a 250-bed hospital round-the-clock for a dozen years and that they produce medical oxygen from ambient air. The oxygen plants will be delivered to 8 Indian hospitals, 6 in Delhi, one in Haryana and one in Telangana, based on needs as identified by the Indian authorities.
  7. Thailand: Thai consignment included 15 oxygen concentrators, to help address the shortage of medical oxygen in the country. The Thai government has promised to send 100 oxygen cylinders to India.
  8. Romania: Romania has sent a consignment containing 80 oxygen concentrators and 75 oxygen cylinders while Germany has sent 120 ventilators to India.
  9. Ireland: Ireland has sent a shipment containing 700 units of oxygen concentrators and 365 ventilators to India. Canada has also pledged as assistance of USD 10million to India fight against COVID.
  10. Bahrain: Bahrain has sent a shipment of 40 MT of liquid oxygen onboard INS Talwar to India. While Egypt has also send in a shipment of 300 oxygen cylinders, 20 ventilators, 100 medical beds, 20 electrocardiography machines, 30 defibrillators and 50 electric syringe pumps will be sent to India.
  11. Singapore: Singapore has donated cryogenic oxygen tanks and Australia is shipping oxygen, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits.
  12. Belgium: Belgium also sent 9,000 vials of Remdesivir to India while Uzbekistan supplied 100 oxygen concentrators as well as Remdesivir and other medicines to India.
    Additionally, leading global companies have also come forward to assist India in this grave humanitarian crisis. Among the leading global companies, American retail giant Walmart has announced it will donate up to 20 oxygen-generating plants and 20 cryogenic containers to India for the storage and transportation of the life-saving gas, and also provide USD 2 million to non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to help them fight the devastating surge in coronavirus cases. Boeing announced a USD10 million emergency assistance package to support India’s COVID-19 response. Leading global payments company Mastercard has donated USD 8.9 million to a New York-based non-profit body, American India Foundation, to install 2,000 portable beds in India, which is reeling from a deadly wave of the COVID-19.
    It is important to recognize that global support for India is also a reciprocal appreciation of New Delhi’s efforts over the last few months. From supplying hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to more than 100 nations to providing 64 million doses of vaccines to more than 80 nations, India’s imprint on global health has been substantive. And as the Gulf nations got hit hard as a result of several nations banning food exports and declining oil demand, India ensured uninterrupted supply of food and essential items.
    Statement of US president Joe Biden that ‘India was there for us, and we will be there for them’ is a testimony of the success of Indian Vaccine diplomacy. Statement of French ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain -‘We stand by India in these difficult times, just as India has always stood by France. In Spring 2020, when French hospitals were facing acute shortages, India provided life-saving help through the export of critical medical drugs,’ also gives thumbs to India’s Vaccine Matri initiative.
    Where some of the richest and most powerful nations in the world turned inwards and erected barriers, India opened its heart and purse strings as a responsible member of the world community. India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative remains a pragmatic response to an unprecedented challenge facing humanity. The debate about India’s response to COVID-19 will and should continue with the aim of enhancing India’s ability to tide over a similar crisis.
    For India’s response represents a unique convergence of idealism and realism in strategic thinking.