Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India -- a country of 1.3 billion people --stood in unison to handle the pandemic. The Prime Minister ensured that we not only tackled this pandemic but also progressed firmly towards an inclusive, accessible, and affordable healthcare system, becoming an example for other countries to follow, says Prof (Dr) Balram Bhargava
The COVID-19 virus continues to linger amidst us since the onset of the pandemic two and a half years back. During this period, India has worked proactively towards solving the complex problems we faced on daily basis.
Now that we can finally sit back and reflect on the learnings from the past challenges and losses imposed by the pandemic, as well as the collective gains made during this challenging time, we are reminded of the countless stories of immense courage, solidarity, and enterprise in addressing such an unprecedented health emergency.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India — a country of 1.3 billion people sharing several cultures, geographies, and socioeconomic backgrounds--stood in unison to tackle the pandemic. The Prime Minister ensured that we not only tackled this pandemic but also progressed firmly towards an inclusive, accessible, and affordable healthcare system. This has now become an example for other countries to follow.
The progress started with the collective efforts of India’s researchers and scientists communities in streamlining the country’s response toward an evidence-based approach to successfully tackle the pandemic.
They worked round the clock to study the virus, establish treatment protocols, create tools and technologies for managing cases and administering of vaccines, and build public awareness around COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. From the beginning of the pandemic, India defied all the odds to become one of the five nations that successfully isolated the SARS-CoV-2 strain.
This was the first validation of our scientific vigor. Its’ testing started in January 2022 with just 1 laboratory. Over months, this base has expanded to over 3,300 COVID-19 testing labs spread all across the country. In diagnostics, India swiftly became self-sufficient, as the brightest of India’s scientific minds worked on indigenous solutions for devising affordable testing kits for antibody detection. This led to India’s emergence as the world’s cheapest provider of RT-PCR tests.
Our vaccination ecosystem has always been supported by a strong manufacturing and production capacity which made us one of the leading low-cost vaccine providers across the world.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we utilized the existing mechanisms to successfully develop effective indigenous vaccines. India's first indigenous vaccine 'Covaxin' was developed in a record period of 9 months. It was a testament to India's strategic focus on public-private partnerships which provided the best of products and benefits to people at home as well as abroad.
The next big challenge was vaccination of a large indigenous population, although this was tackled with relative ease: we have achieved the historic milestone of administering vaccines to over 90 per cent of the Indian population.
To ensure that these vaccines were widely available, India developed a one-of-a-kind digital platform, Cowin, which ensured easy access to vaccines to people across the country. To make these life-saving vaccines accessible to remote and geographically challenging terrains in India, drones were used which made delivery of vaccines possible in a short time. Like this, there have been several other achievements that helped India ace the pandemic.
While we made progress in preventive healthcare by developing diagnostics and testing kits, we did not forget to share the fruits of our enterprise with other countries across the world.
At a time when other nations were galvanizing their local resources to address the precarious COVID--19 healthcare emergency which was ballooning beyond their control, India came to their rescue by providing them with abundant and affordable life-saving vaccines, testing and treatment aids, and even the safety masks. India also participated in global trials and provided evidence on multiple interventions utilized across the pandemic.
India’s multifarious achievements in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic were acknowledged by global leaders who praised India for its 'Vaccine Maitry (Friendship)' initiative which provided over 2,544 lakh vaccine doses to over 100 countries around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic cemented our reputation as a country with compassion, commitment, and capacity to provide effective solutions to global challenges.
We must acknowledge the critical role played by the scientific and medical fraternities in India, as without their collective and dedicated efforts, such a success would not have been possible. It is also important to appreciate the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who by his constant and holistic support to all the stakeholders in the pandemic situation, ensured things worked efficiently and round-the-clock, and that morale stayed high even during the most challenging times.
Despite the vicarious nature of an unprecedented health emergency, the Indian Prime Minister took unprecedented measures to ensure people had access to preventive healthcare infrastructure as well as speedy and effective treatment facilities. Without his constant efforts, such a large number of people could not have been vaccinated in time, and many more lives would have been lost.
Every cloud has a silver lining. It is thus not surprising that something good came out of the Covid-19 global health emergency. During the pandemic, our nation — led by an able Prime Minister and guided by its ancient philosophy of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' — soared above the daunting challenges to serve people in India and across the world as one large family.
Thanks to our collective efforts to combat an unprecedented pandemic, we are now better prepared to overcome obstacles and function to the best of our capabilities under the guiding principles of hope, health, and cooperation.
(The author is Chief, Cardiothoracic Centre, AIIMS, Immediate Past Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR))