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Foreign Secretary’s Remarks at the World Health Organization’s “South-East Asia Regional Health Partners’ Forum on COVID-19” (03 June 2021)

June 03, 2021

I would like to thank Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO for South East Asia, for inviting me to speak at this event.

I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues, Shri Ajay Seth, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs; Shri Rajesh Bhushan, Health Secretary; and Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS, New Delhi. Warm greetings also to the distinguished participants from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

The COVID pandemic is now well into its second year. In India we are fighting an exceptionally severe second wave.

We have lived through ­­a series of extraordinary stresses and shocks. We are dealing with unprecedented economic and social disruptions and distress.

Challenges of this nature require a response at multiple levels. Nationally, it requires not just a whole-of-government approach but a whole-of-society approach. It also requires us to source solutions and capacities on a global basis.

The World Health Organization is one of the key constituents in a global array of players that is dealing with the pandemic.

At a strategic level, we have a keener awareness of the uncertainty that pervades the entire global system. This has altered geopolitical and geoeconomic conduct. Trust and transparency have been affected; there is heightened risk aversion; confidence in globalization has been affected.

What is often termed as the "global system”, for lack of a better word, is seen as inadequate to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The new realities of the pandemic placed unprecedented demands on the Government of India, including the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

We had to create, literally overnight, new capacities to try and cope with a Black Swan event. We have had to innovate, to repurpose and to re-engineer and create an entirely new vertical for pandemic diplomacy.

The Ministry and our network of diplomatic posts played a key role in organizing the ‘Vande Bharat’ Mission, the largest logistical exercise of its kind ever undertaken. This has facilitated the movement of 7 million people through lockdown and post-lockdown periods.

Indian HADR operations acquired global dimensions with the deployment of Rapid Response Teams to partner countries such as Kuwait, the Maldives, Mauritius and Comoros and with Mission SAGAR to the western Indian Ocean, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Vietnam and Cambodia. India also supplied healthcare products to over 150 countries in the face of daunting logistical challenges.

MEA has acted as the global arm of the Government of India’s Empowered Group, to procure essential raw materials and medical supplies for COVID-19.

We have, throughout the pandemic, identified and connected with potential suppliers of essential medicines, raw materials and medical equipment across the world.

During the first COVID wave last year, a global sourcing operation was launched to procure Ventilators, PPE kits, test kits, etc. These helped us to tide over the situation till domestic manufacturing scaled up to meet the demand.

A total of 91 cargo flights were organized between April and August 2020 to bring in these supplies.

We were also part of the effort to source medical products, machinery, and components that were vital for enhancing our domestic manufacturing capabilities such as components for ventilators, testing inputs such as RNA Extraction Kits, Roche Cobas testing machines, etc.

The effort to procure urgently needed medical supplies was reactivated during the second wave. We have been a vital part of a global effort to source Liquid Medical Oxygen, cryogenic ISO tankers, zeolites and essential medicines like Remdesivir, Tocilizumab and Amphotericin B.

These have been sourced from multiple nations and moved to multiple destinations in India.

We continue to facilitate supplies of essential raw materials and components.

We are also part of the discussions with major vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna about sourcing and possible local manufacturing of their vaccines in India. We have also helped to expedite the introduction of Sputnik-V vaccines.

Vaccines have complex supply chains. We have worked to ease regulatory disruptions to these supply chains with key partners through diplomatic interventions.

We have adapted rapidly to virtual diplomacy during the pandemic period. The Prime Minister has conducted over 12 virtual Summits and more than 75 virtual bilaterals. External Affairs Minister and the Ministry have conducted literally hundreds of ministerials, joint commissions, multilateral engagements, Foreign Office Consultations, Senior Officials Meetings, etc.

Going forward, we will participate in the process of creating global scale capacities that are needed to deal with pandemic scale challenges. A number of serious global conversations are underway on this in platforms such as the G7, the G20, QUAD, BRICS, the United Nations and the WHO itself.

India is working with several other countries in the WTO on a targeted and temporary waiver under TRIPS to ensure timely and secure access to vaccines for all.

We are also looking forward to WHO’s approval for India’s indigenous vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech.

Every crisis, empirically speaking, is followed by growth. The same will happen as the pandemic ultimately wanes. We will participate fully in the international process of regeneration through building newer and more resilient supply chains, by focusing on newer technologies and knowledge-driven opportunities and leveraging India’s strengths and capacities.

Thank you.


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