HOW India is Paving the Path for the World: Lessons from the Pandemic
When COVID-19 struck in 2020, governments, international bodies and development organizations were rightfully concerned about how large, socio-economically diverse regions would cope with the impact of a virus known to spread at lightning speed. The concern stemmed from public health emergencies having a proven history of affecting such regions as they exacerbate existing inequalities in reach, access, and inclusion.
But consider what India has achieved in its war against COVID-19. Thanks to an accelerated nationwide vaccination program, over 93 percent of the country’s adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while nearly 70 percent have been fully vaccinated. The country has not only indigenously manufactured three COVID-19 vaccines thanks to its robust vaccine manufacturing capabilities and decades of investment in health R&D, but it has also delivered over 150 million doses to nearly a hundred countries over the last year as part of its Vaccine Maitri Program.
Underlining these achievements has been India’s success in adopting and implementing ‘out-of-the box’ thinking. Right from the government to the country’s researchers and scientists, its healthcare and frontline workers to the private sector and community members, all have joined hands to address the pandemic in a spirit of collaboration and innovation.
Take for example the National Biomedical Resource Indigenization Consortium (or N-BRIC). Created by the Department of Biotechnology as a public-private partnership, it was tasked with driving indigenous innovation in developing reagents, diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics for COVID-19.
This partnership helped India establish an early advantage in its fight against COVID-19 by accelerating the discovery of quick and effective innovations across the areas of disease surveillance, diagnostics, and testing. Testing capacity was ramped up reaching a daily peak of 2.12 million tests in May 2021. India has conducted 770 million tests so far. Technological innovations like Aarogya Setu ensured effective disease surveillance of India’s massive population while India’s digital platform for vaccination, CoWIN, lent speed and efficiency to the country’s vaccination drive.
BEATING COVID WITH AN APP
To understand what helped India emerge as a leader of global goods and expertise, let us start by taking a look at the government of India’s digital platform, CoWIN. Conceptualized and launched within a few months in January 2021 as a highly agile digital app, the platform has scaled in just a year to serve as an end-to-end ecosystem. It ropes in the complete vaccine ecosystem—from vaccine manufacturers, administrators, and healthcare workers to vaccine recipients—through one solution.
One of its key achievements has been its capacity to deliver over 1.78 billion doses across a multitude of regions and terrains so far. How the platform achieved this scale and efficacy has important lessons for the 12 nations from Central Asia and Africa which have expressed an interest in borrowing the technology for deployment in their countries.
CoWIN has succeeded because it has received sponsorship and support from the highest levels with the collaboration of multiple departments from both the central and state governments. It has also been able to leverage an existing digital ecosystem, which provided it with a ready, enabling environment to scale fast. This has helped it to use previously established digital solutions like Aadhar and voter IDs as tools for personal verification. Its own interoperable, scalable architecture has further augmented its ability to be agile and iterative.
As a result of its proven scale and success in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at a virtual global conclave last July that CoWIN was being made open source so that it could be available to the world as a ‘digital public good’ for ‘any and all countries’.
(Excerpts from the speech of Bill Gates at a virtual roundtable organized on India-U.S. Health Partnership in Washington recently)