By K Raveendran
From ‘go corona go’ chants to ringing of bells and tapping of plates to cow urine and now a vaccine with a scientific base, India’s fight against the dreaded coronavirus is nothing short of an epic, despite the incredibly short timeframe. With prime minister Narendra Modi officially launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive, India, true to its age-old tradition of ‘vasudhaiva kudumbakam’ (world as one family) has provided a clear leadership to humanity’s struggle against one of the deadliest viruses the world has ever seen. As Modi asserted in his emotionally surcharged inaugural speech, India already has ‘not one, but two’ vaccines and a number of additional ones are under development. More importantly, the Indian vaccines come at a fraction of the cost of those developed by western giants and with much greater ease of handling. It is indeed the success of a national endeavour, in which every section of the people have contributed, some with their own lives.
While it is true that the initiative has had a liberal dose of political ingredients, including a charge that the vaccine is more political than therapeutic, it is no mean achievement as it reinforces India’s leadership in global medicine manufacturing and its track record as the pharmacy to the world, which is looking up towards even bigger contributions from India for a healthier humanity. Over 60 percent of all life-saving vaccines and drugs for children originate in India.
A number of countries, including Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and South Africa have already approached New Delhi with requests for vaccines manufactured in India. And some have gone directly to the manufacturers. For instance, South Africa has placed an order for 1.5 million shots from Serum Institute of India, while Brazil has requested 2 million doses. The list is expected to keep growing in the months ahead, when the country will have a much bigger collection of the precious vaccine.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro sought to strike an emotional chord in a letter to the Prime Minister seeking supply of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine by invoking Ramayana, mentioning the story of how Hanuman brought a holy medicine from the Himalayas to save the life of Lakshmana.
In the early phase of the pandemic, when there was no proven treatment for and immunisation against Covid-19, India had shipped out about 55 crore hydroxychloroquine tablets to countries severely hit by the outbreak, earning wholesome praise from countries such as the US, Israel, Brazil and others. Though he now stands thoroughly discredited for his antics after a predicted loss in the second bid for presidency, President Donald Trump had become an impromptu brand ambassador for hydroxychloroquine.
Similarly, when the AIDS epidemic hit over 22.5 million in Africa, India stepped up supply of anti-HIV drugs to the region, providing ‘low cost, high quality’ medicines. While drugs from western manufacturers would have cost $10,000 per year per patient, Indian medicines came at a fraction – $400 per patient per year. It is estimated that African countries could thus treat 18 times more patients, spending only $2 billion instead of $150 billion dollars.
India’s contribution to the supply of generic medicines to the world is widely recognized. According to reports, 80 percent of all prescriptions in the US are for generic drugs, out of which 47 percent is supplied by India. It is therefore no surprise that the maximum number of USFDA-approved pharma plants outside the US are in India. It is pioneering work by PSUs such as Hindustan Antibiotics Limited that helped India achieve this unique position globally.
The sheer magnitude of India’s covid vaccination drive makes it unique and a model for other populous countries to follow. The drive involves lakhs of volunteers, who will take care of a wide variety of tasks, including checking of identities to keeping track of post-vaccination health issues. The first phase of the drive itself covers 30 million recipients, which is equal to or less than the population of a 100 countries in the comity of nations. By the time the first stage of vaccination is over, some 300 million Indians would have been inoculated against the disease by August this year. The deployment blue print has already won praise from expert across the world.
This is particularly impressive as many countries, including the more developed western nations, are already struggling with their vaccination rollout. For instance, the US and other countries have stockpiled hundreds of millions of doses, but the pace of vaccinations has been challenged by unexpected glitches and logistical problems. The US drive of vaccinating senior citizens across the country, initiated under the outgoing Trump administration, has been marked bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings due to the overwhelming demand for the shots. (IPA Service)