In aid of Humanity
Speaking at his first UN General Assembly Session in September 2014 soon after assuming power, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India’s foreign policy is governed by India’s age-old maxim of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is a family)”. This doctrine has been rigorously practised by India since coronavirus hit the world early last year, as PM Modi had realised that the only way to quell the virus was by working together.
India reaches out
India has emerged as one of the most significant producers and suppliers of medicines and drugs around the world, exporting to more than 200 countries globally, with the US being the largest market. India’s pharmaceutical industry supplies more than 60 per cent of the global demand for vaccines, 40 per cent of the generic demand for the United States, and 25 per cent of all medicines for the United Kingdom. It is for the above reasons that India has been termed as the “pharmacy of the world”. At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, India’s manufacture of medical equipment like PPEs, masks, ventilators etc. was minuscule. Very quickly, however, India was able to ramp up its production of masks and PPEs to 3,00,000 a day. India provided medicines and medical supplies to nearly 150 countries, more than half on a non-commercial basis, and also sent medical teams to a number of its neighbouring countries to help them in dealing with the pandemic. To bolster confidence in the Indian vaccine manufacturing industry and to promote better understanding and appreciation of India’s pharmaceutical capabilities, 64 foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners posted in India visited, on December 2020, two key biotech companies in Hyderabad – Bharat Biotech and Biological E – that were developing vaccines. Speaking on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in October 2020, PM Modi said that India has always been mindful of the interests of mankind. He committed: “As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today; India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”
Rollout of Vaccine Maitri
Since India produces 60 per cent of all vaccines manufactured globally, the responsibility was to supply Covid-19 vaccines to other countries, especially developing ones. In accordance with India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, Bhutan and Maldives were the first two countries to receive 1,50,000 and 1,00,000 India-made vaccines, respectively, on January 20, 2021. Bangladesh and Nepal came next, and received 2 million and 1 million doses, respectively, on January 21, 2021. Myanmar received 1.5 million doses, Seychelles 50,000 doses, and Mauritius 1,00,000 doses on January 22. Sri Lanka received 5,00,000 doses on January 28, immediately after it accorded approval for use of the vaccine. The Sri Lankan supply was received by its President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The first consignment of Indian vaccines arrived in Bahrain the same day. Afghanistan also received 500,000 doses of India-made vaccine.
Applauding India’s efforts, Bhutan’s PM Lotay Tsherin said, “The gesture signifies compassion and generosity of PM Modi, and people of India for well-being of humanity.” He added, “It is of unimaginable value when precious commodities are shared even before meeting your own needs.” Zahid Maleque, Minister of Health and Family Welfare in Bangladesh, said that India had stood by his country during its Liberation War of 1971, as well as the pandemic that has impacted the world. “This proves the true friendship between Bangladesh and India,” he said. Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli thanked Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government for the “generous grant of one million doses of Covid vaccine to Nepal at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for its own people”. Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Prime Minister, Crown Prince of Bahrain, thanked PM Modi for sending the vaccines. He said the gesture is a “sign of India’s global generosity and the strong partnership enjoyed between our two nations”. All the above supplies were made on gratis basis.
Not just supplying vaccines, India has also conducted training programmes for healthcare workers its neighbouring nations and allies to help them in the vaccination drive. Brazil and Morocco also got two million doses each on January 22. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro thanked PM Modi for sending Covid-19 vaccines with a photograph of Lord Hanumana bringing the holy sanjeevani buti (an Ayurvedic medicine) to treat Lord Lakshmana, as narrated in the Hindu epic Ramayana. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has termed India’s vaccine production capacity as the “best asset” the world has to fight the pandemic. The US State Department; the PM of Mauritius; Director-General of the World Health Organisation; co-founder of Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates and several other world leaders have spoken appreciatively of the selfless manner in which India is helping several countries with the vaccines.
India will supply 10 million doses of vaccine to Africa and another one million shots to the UN for its health workers under GAVI, a global health partnership arrangement. India will also “gift” vaccines to Oman, Nicaragua, the Caribbean and the Pacific Island states. Other than the efforts being made by the Indian government, vaccine producing companies in the country and the industry have reportedly signed contracts with around 90 countries, including South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Canada and Mongolia to supply Covid-19 vaccines on commercial basis. India’s Vaccine Maitri mission is an ideal combination of soft and hard power, seamlessly converging into smart power. It incorporates India’s ethos of altruism while advancing India’s geo-political and geo-economic interests. What has been particularly appreciated by observers is the rapidity and selflessness with which India rolled out millions of doses as aid, despite the massive requirements at home. This has significantly enhanced India’s global credibility and trust-worthiness. The Vaccine Maitri initiative has further strengthened India’s image as the first responder in emergency situations across the world.