India's battle with COVID-19: Why we will win - Korea Times
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India's battle with COVID-19: Why we will win

By Sripriya Ranganathan

Indian Ambassador to Korea Sripriya Ranganathan
Indian Ambassador to Korea Sripriya Ranganathan
India faces an unprecedented and ferocious second COVID-19 wave today, one that has left us dealing with an active caseload of 3.4 million cases and average daily cases of 350,000. This is in stark contrast with our situation just a few weeks ago. Our active caseload rose from 168,235 on Feb. 1 to 584,055 on April 1 and 3.3 million on May 1. Average daily case additions grew from a mere 11,454 in the first week of February to a mammoth 380,576 in the first week of May.

There have been any number of reasons ascribed by experts in India and abroad to the reasons for this situation, including the spread of three new, vastly more virulent strains ― B.1.617, B.1.351 and B.1.1.7 ― in different parts of the country. Whatever the reasons, the situation is grim and India's healthcare system has come under immense strain. This is but natural ― no country can easily handle such a sudden and sharp increase in pressure on its hospitals. Delhi alone saw the demand for oxygen rise by 700 percent during the month of April. The country's daily demand for Remdesivir rose from 65,000 to 300,000 during the month. And so, we see images today in Indian and international media alike of long queues at hospitals, at pharmacies and, most heartbreakingly, at the crematoria and funeral homes.

In this time of crisis, however, we seek out reasons for hope: our recovery rate is high at 82.3 percent and fatality rate low at 1.1 percent. India's vaccination drive has progressed immensely, with 160 million people vaccinated as of today, 3 million of them twice. And, most crucially, Ministry of Health data ― which we have generated plenty of over the past few weeks ― demonstrates definitively that the vaccines are effective. The proportion of COVID-19 infections in vaccinated persons is merely 0.03 percent.

What does India need today? Oxygen, essential medicines, vaccines, to name a few. Augmenting supply of these will reassure our people and help in containing the crisis. We are trying to do exactly this both through domestic measures and international cooperation. Our companies are racing to scale up production of liquid oxygen and all available resources are being harnessed to expedite transfer from the production centers to the hospitals. We are securing additional raw materials so that Indian license manufacturers of Remdesivir and Tocilizumab can boost production. We have secured a special exemption from the U.S. allowing exports of essential ingredients for COVID-19 vaccine production. We are hopeful that the US-supported India-South Africa TRIPS waiver proposal on COVID-19 vaccines will be adopted by the WTO in the interest of global public health.

We are confident that India's supply constraints will be short-lived as our companies scale up production to match demand. This is exactly what happened last year: when the pandemic began, India was amongst those importing masks, personal protective equipment, ventilators, test kits to meet domestic needs. By end-2020, we were producing enough to meet not just our own needs but also those of many others. In the coming days, India will add 550 oxygen generating plants, 4000 oxygen concentrators, 10,000 cylinders, 17 cryogenic tankers to augment capacity. We will accelerate production of drugs and vaccines through arrangements by companies like Gilead and Roche with their Indian license partners. We will bring the second wave under check ― India will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before.

We are greatly touched by the outpouring of affection from friends around the world. Over 40 countries have sent much-needed equipment and drugs. Others, including the Republic of Korea, are in the process of sending help. We have received numerous oxygen concentrators, and ventilators from the U.K., 20 oxygen generating plants and medicines from Russia, enormous quantities of oxygen generating equipment, cylinders and concentrators from the U.S. We have received essential drugs from the UAE and Bangladesh. We have received an offer of oxygen from Bhutan. The list of friends is far too long to name them all, but India is deeply grateful to each and every one.

And we see clearly that as you sow, so shall you reap. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, India readily supplied essential drugs ― Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol, Remdesivir ― to others. Up to a few weeks back, India was providing COVID-19 vaccines to over 95 countries. We did so without hesitation, as a nation that embraces the notion of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The world is one family)." Today, we see the eagerness of those whom we helped to reciprocate and help us in our time of need. The international community has understood that cooperation is the key to overcoming this global challenge. And this is why we will win.

Sripriya Ranganathan is the Indian Ambassador to Korea.

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