India sets a great moral example as the pharmacy of the world

India sets a great moral example as the pharmacy of the world

India has a mammoth task of vaccinating 300 million people from a population of 1.3 billion by July 2021. Equally admirable is the fact that India is now exporting vaccines by the million. When much of the world was asking for help with the Covid vaccine, it was India and its diaspora that came to the rescue, with the two vaccines ‘Covishield’ and ‘Covaxin’. There is now real hope that the world can begin to return to normal, partly thanks to India’s initiative.

Great British Indian collaboration

The decision to have the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was designed in the UK, produced in India as ‘Covishield’ serves as a great example of a productive partnership between India and the UK, with a two-way flow of technical know-how and manufacturing capability.

India produces 25 per cent of NHS drugs and 50 per cent of global vaccines, many of them used by Indian origin doctors in the NHS. This is on top of the fact that Indian-origin scientists such as Chandrabali Datta, a Kolkata-origin vaccine Quality Assurance Manager, have contributed behind the scenes at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute to support the delivery of a viable vaccine in record time.

This further underlines the substantial successes of diaspora professionals in the UK’s critical healthcare sectors. Indian doctors in the National Health Service (NHS), such as Kerala-origin Ajikumar Kavidasan, were among the first 50 people in the UK to have the initial Oxford vaccine jab in December 2020 to demonstrate its safety in the face of vaccine scepticism, underlining how they are leaders for the community.

Winning hearts and minds

Internationally, this UK-India partnership has resulted in huge benefits for international public health, as mass vaccination enables countries to slowly move back to something resembling normality. Particularly striking is that, instead of hoarding the vaccine for its own population, India as a major vaccine producer is helping the rest of the world as well.

Britain has made a similar commitment to help other countries, once its most vulnerable are vaccinated. So far, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brazil are just some of the countries that have benefitted from what is now called the Indian “vaccine diplomacy”. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro even took to Twitter to post an image of the Indian diety Lord Hanuman delivering sanjivani (mythical life-saving herb) to Brazil as a sign of gratitude to India.

Vaccine diplomacy

Vaccine diplomacy is a great example of what is referred to as “soft power” in political analysis. It means winning friends by cultural and political outreach, in stark contrast to the ‘hard’ power that comes in the form of military and economic coercion displayed by some countries. The provision of the two vaccines is a clear win for Indian diplomacy and industry. It reflects the flexibility and dynamism of a fast-growing democracy (one that is expected to grow economically at least 11.5 per cent next year), standing out as a strategic and industrial leader, in the region of the subcontinent and globally.

For a country that was long portrayed as poor and technologically backward in the Western media, this represents a fine achievement indeed. India’s vaccine diplomacy clearly shows its strength as a great industrial and scientific leader, as well as being a compassionate and humanitarian power. It is setting a great moral example.

Indian scientific prowess, combined with a compassionate attitude, is helping reshape the world for the better.

Jeevan Vipinachandran is a UK-based writer and political analyst specialising in political conflict and counter-terrorism. With a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE), his core interest is in international relations with a special focus on the rise of India and its impact on the world stage.

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