Putting neighbours firstNepal is among the first few countries to receive Indian-manufactured Covid-19 vaccines within days of India’s domestic rollout.
‘India will use its vaccine production and distribution capacity to help the whole of humanity in fighting the Covid-19 crisis’. These were the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he addressed the 20th Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Heads of State in November 2020. It was a pledge that was perceived as ambitious and utopian, given the unprecedented nature of adversity and the multitude of concerns, both regional and global, that had to be factored in, without compromising on the efficacy of the end-product.
The year 2020 was, more or less, consumed by the onset and spread of the novel coronavirus. A deadly and previously unknown virus wreaked havoc and death across the globe, killing over 2 million people, infecting many more, and causing economic devastation of untold proportions.
On the one hand, ‘Covid warriors’, such as health care and front-line workers, put in their heart and soul and many even have had to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives to minimise the societal impact of the pandemic. On the other hand, the scientists were not less than lord Dhanvantari, who rose up from the ocean when it was churned, holding in his hand a pot of elixir of life—the sanjeevani.
The development of vaccines, including the two ‘Made in India’ vaccines, suggests—if nothing else—that the world may eventually be able to shrug off the worst of its Covid-19 woes sooner rather than later.
But, for vaccines to do their job, they should first reach the people who require them. For that to happen, countries should have the capacity to satisfy the demand at an affordable rate, the wisdom to treat it as a global good, the will to share it in reality, not just in words, and to not look at it as an economic opportunity alone or a strategic leveraging activity.
India’s pandemic journey has been on three fronts—national, regional and global. Starting from the onset of the pandemic to coordinating a holistic strategy ensuring minimal damage both within the country and in the neighbourhood. From amping up production of essential medicines and equipment to sending consignments of medicines and supplies to nearly 150 partner countries, it has been a challenging but encouraging journey so far.
In March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a clarion call for a collective regional response to fight the pandemic. A video conference among the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was organised to streamline and strategise collective efforts; an Emergency Fund was set up with voluntary contributions from all South Asian countries, aiding procurement and supply of Covid-19-related supplies and equipment among the member states. Since its inception, the forum has facilitated a range of interactions, drawing experts from across the region and across fields including medical, pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, trade and economy.
Our domestic Covid-19 vaccination drive was rolled out using two vaccines—Covishield and Covaxin. Covishield has been developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and is being manufactured by Serum Institute of India. Meanwhile, Covaxin has been developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
While India’s call for a regional response was an intuitive one, its commitment to share the responsibility of global health efforts in the production and distribution of vaccines is derived from its rich civilisational heritage. A heritage that considers the whole world as one interconnected community and that sees fulfilment in collective security, collective development and collective prosperity.
India firmly believes that ‘no one is safe till everyone is safe’ and the pledge to use India’s capacities in vaccine development and distribution emanates from this conviction. A nation-wide Covid-19 vaccination drive was launched on January 16 in India; within four days from then, consignments of vaccines were delivered across our neighbourhood and beyond to key partner countries.
Being a neighbour with age-old civilisational ties and buoyant people-to-people relations underpinned by an open border, Nepal is naturally at the forefront of India’s Neighbourhood First policy and a partner of priority in India’s Covid-19 consciousness. India’s assistance to Nepal has been continuous, based on the needs of its people and includes the supply of RT-PCR testing kits, therapeutic medicines, ICU ventilators, advanced ambulances and antiviral remdesivir injections.
On January 21, I had the privilege of receiving a consignment of 1 million doses of India-manufactured Covid-19 vaccines that arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport. I was joined by Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi, who along with his team have been positive and swift in facilitating required permissions and clearances. The same evening, I had the honour of formally handing over the vaccines to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli at his official residence in Baluwatar. The Covid-19 vaccines are a gift from the people of India to the people of Nepal and are meant to fulfil immediate requirements of vaccinating Nepal’s health care and frontline workers.
Nepal is among the first few countries that received Indian-manufactured Covid-19 vaccines within five days of our own domestic rollout. The foreign ministers of both countries had discussed the early provisioning of vaccines during the recent sixth India-Nepal Joint Commission meeting held on January 15 in New Delhi. In exactly a week’s time since External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar promised Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali on the supply of vaccines, we had the actual consignment land in Kathmandu.
The pandemic has been a testing time for all of us, but one that has also brought out the depth and resilience of our underlying bonds. Through the entire pandemic, we have managed to keep the supply chains and trade flows open. Be it the movement of Nepalis returning home or the movement of essential goods across the border, the officials on either side of the border have liaised and coordinated efficiently and effectively.
The relationship between India and Nepal exists in various paradigms—be it religious, cultural, social, economic or political. In recent times, I believe that ‘vaccine maitri’ adds another satisfying chapter in our ties.
Nepal embarked on her domestic Covid-19 vaccination drive on January 27, 2021. I wish Nepal’s health professionals and caregivers a successful and smooth roll-out. The people of India stand with the people of Nepal in defeating the virus and will do whatever it takes in our collective fight to prevail over the pandemic.