delay-in-indias-vaccine-maitri-programme

  • Context- India is unlikely to resume its Vaccine Maitri programme for the neighborhood, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka until at least to July, given the sudden shortage of vaccines amid the surge in COVID-19 cases, and the government's plan for vaccination for all adults set to start on May 1.

Background

  • India has had to suspend the export of both commercial and grant based vaccine doses, including to countries in the neighborhood which had already paid for the shipments, with the last batch going out at the beginning of April, after the 2nd wave of the pandemic hit India.
  • the government is also not sure about when the supplies will be restored.
  • India's last shipment to Bangladesh was a grant of 1 Lac doses sent on April 2nd while the commercial shipments have not been sent since February 21, when 20 lactose was shipped.
  • Bangladesh had contracted for 30 million doses of Covishield at 5 million doses a month for six months, but only 7 million of the paid shipments actually arrived between January and February.
  • Sri Lanka placed a commercial order for 1.5 million (15 lakh) doses of Covishield, of which just 5 lakh doses have arrived so far. 
  • Sri Lanka and Nepal were last sent shipments through the COVAX alliance on March 6 and 28, respectively, while commercial shipments stopped at the end of February. 
  • Sources said Bangladesh and Nepal have raised concerns about the interruption in supplies officially. 

Vaccine Maitri or Vaccine Friendship Programme

  • It is the official vaccine diplomacy program of India under its neighborhood first policy.
  • In accordance with this policy, Bhutan and Maldives became the 1st Two countries to receive 150,000 and 100,000 vaccines respectively, on January 20, 2021. 
  • Bangladesh and Nepal received two million and one million doses on January 21. Myanmar received 1.5 million doses, Seychelles 50,000 doses, and Mauritius 100,000 doses on January 22.

Key Features of the Vaccine Maitri Programme

  • It is based on India’s foreign policy ideology of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”- The World is one Family.
  • Under the programme, India decided to supply maiden India COVID-19 vaccines to its neighboring and key partner countries under the neighborhood first policy.
  • Bhutan and Maldives are the first countries to get the vaccines followed by Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.
  • Followed by the above countries Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius got the necessary vaccine doses.
  • However, Pakistan was not among the beneficiaries of the above programme.
  • The vaccines were supplied to the partner countries in a phased manner, keeping in mind the demand.

Vaccine Diplomacy

  • It refers to that branch of global health diplomacy in which a nation uses the development or delivery of vaccines to strengthen its ties with other nations.
  • It also includes the joint development of lifesaving vaccines and related technologies, with the major actors typically scientists that come together to work irrespective of the kind of diplomatic relationship between the participating countries.

Advantages for India

  • Such kinds of measures could provide innovative opportunities to promote India's foreign policy as well as domestic relations between the nations in its neighborhood and across the globe.
  • By financing shipments from India's assistance programs for cash strapped neighboring countries that desperately need such assistance, India shall own the long term goodwill offered by some idiot neighbors and across the Indian Ocean countries.
  • In a recent move by China, it offered vaccines to Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh and it held a multilateral dialogue with the four countries and also Pakistan on anti epidemic prevention. The early shipment of vaccines from India to these countries could help encountering the Chinese vaccine and mask diplomacy in its neighborhood.
  • It gives a leverage to India over the Western countries who are currently focused almost exclusively on their own problems as India is being appreciated for helping its neighbors and developing countries who could not afford the US and European vaccines.
  • Beyond India's immediate neighbors, South Korea, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and South Africa have all shown inclinations towards the purchase of vaccines from India which is estimated to be 60% of the global supply of inoculants.
  • Such a measure will provide a boost through the farmer manufacturing in India and help India to become the pharmacy of the world that will have long term positive impacts for India.
  • If India becomes the manufacturing hub to the COVID-19 vaccines across the world, it shall give a boost to the Indian economy.
  • Such a move by India comes at a time when The WHO Director General criticized the moral corruption of the drug manufacturers from the richer countries for delaying distribution of vaccines and targeting shipments to the rich countries only. This could help India have a moral right to have a greater say in the international forums.

Earlier Diplomacy Measures by India

  • India had earlier supplied Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir and Paracetamol tablets as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries during the pandemic. 
  • Under the Partnerships for Accelerating Clinical Trials (PACT) programme, India has also provided training to several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical capabilities.

Issues with the Move

  • It is being said that the export of vaccines from India to other countries has caused the current vaccine shortage in the country for its own citizens.

Conclusion

India needs to balance its domestic needs with its diplomatic commitments. The vaccination drive in India commenced in January, 2021 and is the world's largest vaccination drive. The current vaccine shortage in the country especially when India has been hit by the second wave has led to a dilemma in the minds of the people as well as the policymakers about the effectiveness of such a programme. 

However, the strategic effectiveness of the programme cannot be ignored. Where some of the richest and most powerful nations in the world turned inwards and erected barriers, India opened its heart and purse strings as a responsible member of the world community. India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative remains a pragmatic response to an unprecedented challenge facing humanity.

Source- The Hindu