Remarks by Foreign Secretary at the Ananta Aspen Centre on the Launch of the Paper on ‘India: The World’s Pharmacy Expands Its Reach in Global Health’

Posted on: March 30, 2021 | Back | Print

Good evening.

I would like to begin by thanking the Ananta Aspen Centre for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at the launch of the paper prepared by Global Health Strategies on ‘India: The World’s Pharmacy Expands its Reach in Global Health’. I had the opportunity earlier this month to meet Ms. Anjali Nayyar and her team at Global Health Strategies and hear first-hand about their work. I congratulate them for providing such a thorough and comprehensive overview of the evolution and current global significance of India’s pharmaceutical industry. I thank Mr. Dhruv Pahwa, Senior Director at Global Health Strategies for encapsulating the insights and learnings from this paper and Mr. Hari Menon, Country Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the introduction.

2. The global role played by India in responding to the pandemic and addressing the global demand for pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and, now for vaccines is an excellent demonstration of the Prime Minister’s broader vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ – a self-reliant India that that adds to the global supply especially in critical commodities, and a manufacturer the world can depend on. It was as early as in April 2020 that the Prime Minster took the initiative of proposing a G-20 Summit to discuss the COVID-19 crisis afflicting the world. It was at that meeting that the PM drew attention of the world’s most powerful leaders of the need for a global response to the pandemic. His views on the need for the international community, in general, and India, in particular, to focus on the global good has served as a clarion call for better and more concerted efforts to ensure that all States, particularly the less developed and more vulnerable, are assisted. The G-20’s debt relief suspension initiative flowed from the G-20 Summit in April 2020.

3. My focus today would be on the approach which has guided India’s global contribution to the fight against the pandemic; and how this contribution has firmly established our credentials as a force for global good.

4. Our response to the pandemic on the domestic front was proactive from the very early stages of the spread of the virus. We put in place screening measures even before phase-I of the infection in India. Compared to other countries, we started thermal screening of inbound passengers relatively early and gradually increased travel restrictions.

5. As you all know, we moved to full lock-down on the 55th day of the outbreak in India, with around 600 confirmed cases. Other countries undertook full lock-downs only after caseloads rose beyond several thousands. Despite a nationwide lock-down, continuity of essential services was maintained and essential goods delivered to India's remote areas during this period. This lock-down and close observation of data helped us upgrade our capacity in terms of dedicated COVID hospitals, isolation and ICU beds.

6. This period saw the launch of Vande Bharat Mission to bring back the Indian nationals stranded abroad. This has been the largest and most complex exercise ever undertaken by the government for repatriation of our nationals. We also assisted over 120 nations in safely evacuating their nationals stranded in India during the lock-down.

7. India took the lead in initiating and participating in regional and multilateral consultations to emphasize the need for countries to come together to collectively deal with the pandemic.

8. At the initiative of the Prime Minister, leaders of SAARC countries came together in March last year to work on a coordinated response to COVID-19. At this meeting, the Prime Minister proposed setting up of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC to which India has contributed USD 10 million. This Fund has been used to deliver urgent medical supplies, equipment and humanitarian assistance to our neighbours.

9. Speaking at the Global Vaccine Summit last year, the Prime Minister had noted that India had tried to live up to its teaching of seeing the world as one family by sharing medicines with other countries, forging a common response strategy in its immediate neighborhood and providing specific support to countries that sought it, while also protecting India’s own vast population.

10. India received the credit for ensuring supply of essential medicines during the critical phase of the pandemic. Delivery of these medicines cemented our reputation as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’ and as a responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains.

11. We provided medical assistance, which included essential drugs, test kits, protection gear, etc., to over 150 countries. We undertook a number of medical supply missions across the world overcoming daunting logistical challenges during the lock-down.

12. In line with the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)’, India launched Mission SAGAR, under which an Indian Naval Ship was deployed to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles to deliver coronavirus related assistance. At their request, Rapid Response Medical Teams were deployed by India to help Maldives, Kuwait, Mauritius and Comoros deal with the pandemic.

13. India supplied hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tablets to over 150 countries, with more than half of those countries being given on a grant-basis. Commercial consignments of about 560 million hydroxychloroquine tablets and about 1.54 billion tablets of paracetamol were cleared.

14. Vaccine Maitri, under which we have supplied vaccines to our friends and partners, is essentially an outcome of the vision of the Prime Minister to support all of humanity in this hour of crisis. It would be recalled that in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, the Prime Minister had said "India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity.”

15. We launched our national vaccination drive on 16 January this year. On 20 January, the first tranche of Indian vaccines landed in Bhutan and Maldives and the next few days in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Seychelles and Mauritius. Since the launch of Vaccine Maitri, we have supplied 64 million doses of vaccines to 82 countries. This includes supplies under grant, commercial contracts and the COVAX facility. We have also facilitated supply of vaccines to UN health workers and are gifting vaccines to UN Peacekeepers.

16. India’s initiative of supplying COVID-19 vaccines to the world despite its huge domestic requirements has been widely appreciated, including by UN Secretary General; WHO; Heads of State and Government of several countries; and the public at large around the world. Vaccine Maitri initiative has been a major diplomatic effort by India and has helped raise our global stature.

17. The number of vaccine doses shared with our partner countries so far is about the same as the number we ourselves have used in our domestic immunisation programme. The resurgence of COVID-19 cases has highlighted the need for an accelerated vaccination programme in our country, and from 1st April, we will be extending this facility to all our citizens above the age of 45 years. Naturally, we will need to calibrate our external supplies keeping in mind our domestic production and domestic needs.

18. There is every expectation that the two current manufacturers will rapidly expand their manufacturing capacities to cater to the increasing domestic and external demand. Some of the vaccine candidates may also conclude their trial process and become available. In keeping with the vision of catering to the global good, the Leaders’ Summit of the Quad, consisting of USA, Japan, Australia and India, has proposed to use Indian manufacturing capacity, financed and supported by the other Quad members, to supply vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region. This will involve the creation of new capacities and will not impact on our current vaccine production or roll out.

19. Capacity building and experience sharing has been an important part of the assistance extended by India during this period. This is something that the authors of the paper could also examine in greater detail as it has the potential to emerge as an important area for our healthcare industry’s global outreach.

20. We have organised a number of online training programmes on COVID-19 testing, clinical practices, case management, vaccine development and delivery etc. under the India PACT (Partnerships for Accelerating Clinical Trials) programme spearheaded by Department of Biotechnology for participants from various countries, including from Africa and the Gulf. We have also organised a training programme covering administrative and operational aspects of vaccination. Additionally, we have shared our experience of managing the pandemic through the courses run under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.

21. Last month, the Prime Minister while addressing the Health Secretaries and technical experts of neighbouring countries suggested several measures to further regional cooperation in the area of healthcare. These included: a special visa scheme for our doctors and nurses; an air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies; a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data on vaccines; and a regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology for preventing future pandemics.

22. The Global Health Strategies Paper highlights an important aspect of our response to the pandemic. As the paper notes, during the initial weeks of the pandemic, there was a severe shortage of critical medical items such as diagnostics, personal protective equipment and ventilators. India has come a long way in this area since the virus was first detected. Within a few months, Indian industry was able to increase production of most of the items significantly enabling us to not only meet the domestic requirement but also export these items.

23. The statistics on our manufacturing capacity, some of which I have taken from the paper, are impressive. Today, India is the world’s second largest manufacturer of PPE kits. By December 2020, India had exported over 20 million PPE kits and 40 million N-95 masks to a number of countries. We now have the capacity to produce about 1 billion RT-PCR test kits at very competitive prices. This increase has also contributed to a rapid scaling up of testing capacity in India which was instrumental in the Government’s ‘Test Track and Treat’ strategy. The number of COVID tests conducted across the country has crossed 240 million last week.

24. The paper concludes with ideas on the way ahead for the Indian healthcare industry, including by addressing gaps at the bottom and top of the pharma value chain with regard to active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and original molecules. It rightly suggests that India is poised to be more than a pharmacy to the world and can offer a wide range of healthcare solutions to other countries. There is huge international demand for our vaccines, pharmaceuticals and other medical items. The paper includes several case studies showcasing the strength of our pharmaceuticals industry. All these examples point towards the high quality of Indian pharmaceutical products and the trust they enjoy across the globe.

25. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the rise of India as an Atmanirbhar partner is good for the world. In this environment, we expect to see more global players cooperating with their Indian counterparts in the pharma and healthcare sectors. This is likely to go beyond shifting parts of supply chains to India. We expect to see collaborations, manufacturing and R&D tie-ups in this field. We are working with some of our partner countries to create secure, resilient and sustainable supply chains for ourselves and the world at large. India has the unique advantage of a robust IT and IT services sector to back up the delivery of health services, as seen in the CoWin portal for Covid vaccinations. As health security and health supply chains move up on the priority lists of the world’s governments and we increasingly adapt to data-driven health technologies, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is perfectly poised to embrace the emerging opportunities.

Thank you.