India, the second most populous country in the world, is setting world records for the most new infections, with more than 400,000 new cases reported daily – a figure most health experts believe to be an understatement. blatant count. The worst is yet to come – and the United States must play a leading role in supporting the world’s greatest democracy. Since Covid-19 is a global pandemic, the consequences for the United States and the rest of the world will be devastating if we fail to immediately control the Covid-19 crisis in India.
First, as long as there is unmitigated spread in India, we are allowing more dangerous variants to emerge, hampering our own progress in containing the pandemic. In addition to the B.1.1.7 variant which has already spread around the world, the B.1.617 and B.1.618 variants are now spreading rapidly across India. These newer variants are believed to be more transmissible and possibly able to evade prior immunity from previous vaccination or infection. B.1.617 has already spread to more than 20 countries outside of India, including the United States. Each new variant threatens economic recovery and the trend towards herd immunity.
Second, India is a major supplier of vaccines and drugs to the world. India has agreed to provide vaccines to Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX). It is also a manufacturer of remdesivir, a drug commonly used to reduce morbidity from severe Covid-19. India’s crisis will weaken the world’s ability to fight the pandemic, as several countries will lose a critical lifeline of vaccines and drugs.
Third, America is a direct beneficiary of India’s health and economic well-being. The country is a key regional economic and security ally, and Indian-born doctors have helped fill critical labor shortages in the United States and provide life-saving care during the pandemic. India is the world’s largest exporter of doctors, supplying tens of thousands of nurses and doctors to the United States. Investing in India is therefore synonymous with investing in our own healthcare infrastructure.
How can the United States help India?
As Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, recently said of India, “we really need to do more”. In addition to the recent announcement of aid from the Biden administration, the United States is expected to be at the forefront of diplomacy and long-term health planning.
As a first step, the United States should transfer any excess vaccine doses to India and other countries in need. As we applaud the release of the unused AstraZeneca vaccine supply, this is just the start. The AstraZeneca vaccine is not licensed in the United States, but millions of doses have been “on hold.” It is not in the interests of the United States to stockpile vaccines, but rather to ensure that vaccines are fairly distributed to the countries that need them most. Global vaccine equity is enormous, with only 0.3% of the global supply of Covid-19 vaccines currently allocated to low-income countries.
The United States is also expected to help India and other countries manufacture vaccines, drugs and supplies to beat the pandemic. The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, tweeted a call for the lifting of US controls on exports of key raw materials for vaccine production. The recent US pledge to send raw materials and aid to India is a necessary start to address some of India’s immediate Covid-19 needs. However, much more is needed beyond the supply of PPE, critical oxygen and monetary donations during this unprecedented crisis. To help end the global pandemic, the United States must also support a patent waiver, allowing India and other PRFIs to produce their own Covid-19 vaccines through enhanced collaboration with other countries, a increased funding from pooled resources; and technology transfer and assistance from existing suppliers. . In addition, support is needed to provide these countries with tools for rapid and diagnostic RT-PCR testing and genomic sequencing for emerging variants.
Finally, US political leaders must call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to institute stricter mitigation measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 and call for greater transparency in the reporting of cases and deaths. We are all too familiar with the devastating effects of a former administration that suppressed critical information, downplayed the severity of the pandemic, and neglected the advice of the scientific community. Without further mitigation, India’s projections for cumulative totals of Covid-19-related deaths will very soon exceed the US total. As the United States has started restricting travel from India, we must remember that a travel ban cannot end a global pandemic.
As the world reaches its highest number of Covid-19 cases, including a third in India, the United States must lead global health diplomacy to end the pandemic.