Why in News?
Indian diplomacy will have to handle the fallout of the vaccine collapse and bio-research regulations
Syllabus— GS 2: International Relations
Recent Diplomatic Developments: –
- In thepast month, the focus for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Missions abroad has shifted.
- While the focus in 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, was on coordinating exports of COVID-19 medicines, flights to repatriate Indians abroad (the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’) after the lockdown, and then exporting vaccines worldwide (‘Vaccine Maitri’), after the second wave, Covid Diplomacy 2.0 has a different order of tasks, both in the immediate and the long term.
- After the second wave, Covid Diplomacy 2.0 has a different order of tasks, both in the immediate and the long term.
The Health Crisis
- The immediate imperative was to deal with oxygen and medicine shortages.
- The Ministry of External Affairs has had to deal with internal health concerns while galvanising help from abroad for others.
- Remdesivir and favipiravir were brought from the United States and Russia, and later requesting black fungus medication, and the previous ones have been dropped from the medical protocol.
- Ministry of External Affairs has completed the task of bringing in supplies in a timely manner, and with success.
Issues of Vaccine Shortages
- The shortage of vaccines in the country has arisen from three factors:
- the failure of the Government to plan and place procurement orders in time;
- the failure of the two India-based companies to produce vaccine doses they had committed to
- MEA’s focus on exporting, not importing, vaccines between January and April this year.
- With the company’s manufacturing AstraZeneca and Sputnik-V stretched as far as future production is concerned, and Chinese vaccines a non-starter given bilateral tensions, it is clear that the government is looking to the U.S. to make up the shortfall.
There are various ways to do it they are:
- requesting the U.S. to share a substantial portion of its stockpile of AstraZeneca doses and to release more vaccine ingredients which are restricted for exports
- to buy more stock outright from the three U.S. manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and
- to encourage production in India of these vaccines.
- The U.S. government is holding up its AstraZeneca exports until its own United States Food and Drug Administration approves them; it has released a small amount (20 million doses) of vaccine ingredients and components.
- Buying vaccines directly will need negotiations as the U.S. companies seem set on getting both an indemnity waiver from India as well as Emergency Use Authorisation prior to supplying them.
- The Government may also need to make shift from its publicly announced policy that States in India will need to negotiate purchases directly, as the U.S. manufacturers want centralised orders, with payments up-front.
Patents, diplomatic fallout
- The promise of patent waivers, from India’s joint proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) won’t reap early benefits, despite support from world leaders such as the U.S., Russia and China.
- As many countries are still holding out on the idea of freeing up intellectual property rights on vaccines for three years.
- The third big challenge for Indian diplomacy is to manage the fallout of the vaccine collapse.
- All vaccine exports were stopped as soon as cases in India began to soar, global agencies depending on India for vaccines have been left in the lurch by the Government’s failure to balance its vaccine budget.
- Worst sufferer is as Bhutan and its vaccine drive which depended entirely on India’s promise of vaccines for its whole population.
- India’s neighbours has now sought help from China and the U.S. to complete their vaccination drives.
- Making amends and regaining trust for India’s vaccine and pharmacy exports in the future is going to be a challenge left to the MEA and its missions in several capitals.
Tracing virus pathways
- To gain understanding of what caused COVID-19,India, as one of the worst pandemic-hit countries, must be at the forefront of demanding accountability.
- World Health Organisation (WHO) studied “pathways of emergence” of SARS-CoV2 in Wuhan, listed four possibilities: direct zoonotic transmission, an intermediate host, cold chain or transmission through food, or a laboratory incident.
- World are now calling for more research and transparency from China, particularly over the activities at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
- India, must call for a more definitive answer and also raise its voice for a stronger convention to regulate any research that could lead, by accident or design, to something as diabolical as the current pandemic.
- It is necessary to revamp the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, to institute an implementation body to assess treaty compliance, and build safer standards for the future.
Way Forward: –
- With its seat at the UN Security Council as non-permanent member and its position on WHO’s Executive Board, India could seek to regain the footing it has lost over the past few months of COVID-19 mismanagement, by taking a lead role in ensuring the world is protected from the next such pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words on Buddha Purnima, that in times to come the planet will remember events as either “pre-Covid or post-Covid” could not hold truer than for India’s diplomatic structure worldwide. Discuss.