COVID-19 has shaken global healthcare infrastructure. Grappling with the effects of the pandemic, countries have tried everything from local and national lockdowns, travel bans, to school and office closures, and restaurant, multiplex, and mall shutdowns to contain the spread of the virus. But the virus surges time and again.
Wave after wave, variant after variant of COVID-19 has blazed through borders. Global pandemics necessitate a global response. While nations are fighting outbreaks individually, it is imperative for countries to work in alliance. Global institutions and alliances such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), G7, G20 etc. have come together to help under-developed nations fight the pandemic. Countries have also been helping other nations directly by supplying essential healthcare equipment. The alliances and friendships formed in this time of grave uncertainty have defined the beginning of a new era of health cooperation.
WHO has played a pivotal role in responding to the pandemic. From the very beginning, WHO, through its global network, helped several countries by delivering essential health care equipment, supporting surveillance, spreading awareness, and facilitating skill development among health care workers. During the second wave of COVID-19 in India, WHO collaborated with the government to fight the raging virus and pledged 4,000 oxygen concentrators to our country. The IMF, a facilitator of monetary cooperation between 190 countries, understood the need for liquidity and helped countries through outright financial support. In wake of the crisis, the U.N.’s arm UNICEF also helped countries cope with the outbreak. Responding to the surging cases in India in May 2021, UNICEF distributed 8.5 million triple-layered masks and 1.75 million face shields across the country.
Multilateral alliances have played an important role in addressing COVID-19. G7 countries committed to share at least 870 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, aiming to deliver at least half of these by the end of 2021. G20 nations pledged to leave no stone unturned to protect lives and facilitate affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Many countries such as Germany provided financial assistance to COVAX, an international initiative to distribute Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the holder of the G20 Presidency, pledged US$500 million to relevant international organizations to support global efforts to fight the pandemic. This pledge aims to improve emergency and preparedness response, develop, and deploy new diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, fulfilling a need for international surveillance and coordination, and ensuring sufficient supplies of protective equipment for health workers. As the founding member of the OPEC Plus grouping of nations, the Kingdom spearheaded the largest reduction in the production of crude oil. The effort contributed in providing stabilizing the global economy, and fighting the effects of the pandemic.
India led global vaccine diplomacy by facilitating vaccination across the world. As on May 29, 2021, our country had supplied a total of 66.40 million Made-in-India vaccine doses to as many as 95 countries including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Myanmar and South Africa, among others. These vaccines have been supplied to at least 50% of the Least Developed (LDC) countries and one third of the Small Island Developing (SID) countries.
Long-lasting partnerships between countries have borne fruit during these testing times. One of the many such examples are ties between India and Saudi Arabia. In the face of COVID-19, the decades-old ties, driven by energy cooperation, are now seen strengthening in the sphere of health cooperation. Over the past few months, Saudi Arabia has provided 140 tons of oxygen to India in two batches. Both countries have supported each other in fighting the pandemic on multiple occasions. The Government of India permitted hundreds of healthcare professionals to travel back to the Kingdom to join their workplaces in medical institutions and support the Kingdom’s fight against COVID-19. Saudi Arabia reciprocated by offering the Indian expat community free coronavirus treatment as it did for its citizens. Throughout 2020-21, both countries have maintained a robust supply chain, helping meet each other’s needs during the pandemic.
Countries must realize that COVID-19 will leave no victors, only survivors. And that the best way to fight the pandemic is together, by forging effective alliances that work to pull humanity out of this deep crisis. The global healthcare infrastructure is stressed, to say the least. An effective response will require global cooperation through alliances and partnerships that are carefully cultivated and meticulously carried through with the right intent, trust, and a sense of altruism, which Indian thought has championed through ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family).
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Tiwari, Professor and Principal, Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi
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