India’s fight against Covid-19 ‘Inspiring”: Gates Foundation
The world famous Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has highlighted India’s resilience in fighting the Covid-19 virus and said that that it is heartening to see the way “ from individuals stepping up when the system was under duress, to government and private organizations across the diaspora to help those who needed it the most.”
The Foundation has noted that India’s ﬁght against the pandemic has witnessed a collaborative, multi-sectoral, multi-agency effort involving many government ministries and departments working in tandem to ensure quick and effective results.
Led by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, many departments have contributed to the ﬁght. The Department of Biotechnology has played a pivotal role in the indigenous vaccine development effort. ICMR has ensured that robust surveillance systems are put in place and ramped up to track the spread of the virus in India. NITI Aayog has anchored civil society collaboration. The Ministry of I&B has ensured that there is high awareness among people and information is disseminated promptly.
In addition to the above, the Ministries of Home, Civil Aviation, External Affairs, and Textiles have all signiﬁcantly contributed to the national response. Our foundation collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), NITI Aayog, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in several priority areas: vaccine development, management of adverse events, capacity building, strengthening vaccine delivery and supply-chain logistics, expanding testing, and evaluating new and re-purposed drugs.
“India has emerged self-reliant in many ways from efforts around genomic sequencing that can detect variants, to scaling up and innovating in diagnostics as well as developing and manufacturing vaccines. Decades of investment in health and vaccine manufacturing infrastructure have enabled India’s thriving R&D sector to launch innovative, safe and affordable vaccines to support India’s immunization drive. Currently, India has administered over 90 crore vaccine doses which is a remarkable achievement. And 30 Indian companies are at various stages of research, development, and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines
“At the Gates Foundation, we collaborated with the Serum Institute of India and GAVI to accelerate manufacturing and delivery of approximately 200 million doses of Covishield, and 100 million doses of Covovax (pending approval), for low- and middle-income countries. Our eco-system of partners and philanthropists came together to provide on-ground support, mobilize resources, and support community outreach efforts”, the Gates Foundation says.
Then there are stories of selﬂessness and resilience, from healthcare and frontline workers to communities and individuals. Thousands of women in self-help groups across the country have bolstered the country’s ﬁght against COVID-19 by making millions of masks, PPE kits, and sanitizers. Many of these women continue to support the community through delivering meals, home-based care, driving COVID appropriate behaviors and supporting state initiatives and schemes. Communities have shown that some of the most remarkable innovations can happen at a hyperlocal level.
All these have impressed the Foundation very much. It considers these stories to be “inspiring”. So much so that in a recent emailed interview to Rhythma Kaul of the Hindustan Times, , Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates has said that India has remarkably managed to scale up vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus.
“India’s Covid-19 management and the country-wide immunization drive have demonstrated why long-term investments in health systems are crucial”, she said.
“In particular, India’s thriving R&D and vaccine manufacturing and delivery ecosystem have enabled the country to rapidly scale up Covid-19 immunization to deliver more than 750 million doses( It is now set to touch the one crore mark). That’s remarkable.”
According to Gates, it is also important for governments to put systems in place that can more quickly help the most vulnerable people to minimise the impact of such a crisis. India is taking some encouraging steps to do just that, such as implementing its Digital Health Mission to boost the efficiency and transparency in the country’s health care services.
“And the Indian government’s direct benefit transfer program, which has provided financial support to 200 million women during the pandemic, has helped those who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19”, she stressed.
Putting women at the centre of the economic recovery is something that all governments must continue to focus on and at the Gates Foundation, we remain committed to providing strong support to this. We’ve committed $2.1 billion globally over the next five years to promote women’s economic empowerment, to strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning, and to support women’s leadership, she added.
“It is clear that we have to make sure that the most vulnerable groups and communities are protected whenever such crises occur. Strengthening social safety nets, improving service delivery to vulnerable communities, including women, and ensuring access to affordable quality health care will continue to be critical areas to focus on.”
On the question of inequity that people have seen in use of Covid-19 vaccines globally, wherein developed countries have vaccinated a major chunk of their population and are already looking at booster shots, and low-income countries are still waiting for doses, Gates said, “ Despite some historic successes and unprecedented collaborations, we still have a long way to go to ensure everyone has equal access to vaccines. Outbreaks and new variants around the world show the consequences of this vaccine inequity and the significant and tragic costs of inaction. We have a moral imperative to remove all barriers and use every lever available to rapidly improve access to Covid-19 vaccines for everybody, everywhere. We’ve been focused on this mission over the last year, and we will keep it up. Until more people worldwide get the vaccine, we won’t be able to put the pandemic behind us.
“We’ve also seen that Covid-19 vaccine access is directly correlated with locations with vaccine R&D and manufacturing capability. Africa, for example, has 17 percent of the world’s population, but less than 1 percent of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities. That’s why we support efforts to invest in and build a sustainable regional vaccine development and manufacturing ecosystem — to ensure vaccines can be available everywhere.
“The path forward is challenging. But it’s not impossible. We all can and must do more to accelerate the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine doses. Any country or company sitting on the sidelines should step in to do its part.”
Gates was particular that “the Covid-19 pandemic has also shown our collective resolve, resilience, determination and capacity to fight these challenges with innovation and collaboration. In the toughest of circumstances, countless individuals, organisations and countries went above and beyond to innovate, adapt and build resilient systems and to look out for one another”.
She was impressed that “ In India, we witnessed the unprecedented efforts of government, private institutions and millions of ordinary individuals coming together to help those in need. The Gates Foundation was proud to partner with the government and Indian non-profits to expand testing, surveillance, vaccine discovery and evaluating new and repurposed drugs.
“We also witnessed remarkable efforts from small collectives in India. Self-help groups played a crucial role in management of Covid-19 in their communities. For example, when Covid-19 arrived in Bihar — home to more than 100 million people — local self-help groups established trust with their neighbors by delivering meals and home-based health care to those who fell ill, then served as sources of information and support to encourage the community to get vaccinated.
“In Uttar Pradesh, apart from playing a similar role of community support that peer groups did in Bihar, self-help groups have also been engaged by the government to facilitate the state’s ‘Take Home Ration’ program and to support the most vulnerable. There are so many examples like these, and they all demonstrate that some of the most effective interventions happen at a hyperlocal level, headed by leaders who have worked long and hard to earn the trust of their communities.”