Leading the Way, Leading the World : Prime Minister Modi Inspires India to Become Pharmacy of the World
BAKU, Azerbaijan, Nov. 30
By B.Vanlalvawna, Ambassador of India, Baku
India is at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development, some of them in advance stages, with a strong and vibrant scientific community. On 28 November 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a 3-city tour to conduct an extensive review of the COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing process being under undertaken by India's premier institutes Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad, Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad and Serum Institute of India in Pune, to boost the morale of the scientists involved in this process. PM Modi said that India is not only leading the world in research for vaccines but will also be crucial for the world’s vaccine production and it is also India’s duty to assist other countries in the collective fight against the virus. Ambassadors of 100 countries are scheduled to visit the Serum Institute of India and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Limited next month. During this COVID-19 crisis, India has become the Pharmacy of the World in its fight against the pandemic by supplying medicines to over 150 countries.
The quick and proactive decisions taken by the Government helped the country to control the spread of the pandemic in the country. India was among the quickest to react at the government and institutional level, by starting the screening of passengers from 17 January 2020, among the first countries in the world to do so, imposed nation-wide lock down on 24 March 2020 when the country had just 500 cases, utilized the period of lockdown to create adequate infrastructure and other facilities to fight the pandemic. Prime Minister Modi himself has been personally monitoring COVID-19 situation in the country and has chaired at least once COVID-19 related meeting a week over the last 9 months, and most have been away from the public eye. He has been interacting with all sections of society from healthcare professionals, to sportspersons, to media to even radio jockeys, to motivate them to spread awareness, learn from them, know their experience and harness their expertise.
When PM Modi called for a complete lockdown on 24 March, the growth rate of new cases had increased from 10.9% to 19.6% in just one week and the doubling time was just over 3 days. That is when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the decision to impose a national lockdown, which till then no other country had taken so early. This one decision changed India’s trajectory. If the lockdown option is exercised late, it really does not help since exponential phase is already on. By this time the hospitals are already full and deaths pile up. Moreover, this was a crucial period for the government to build up infrastructure to treat the pandemic. India utilized the period of lockdown to create 15,362 dedicated COVID1-19 health facilities, about 15.40 lakh isolation beds, 2.70 lakh oxygen supported beds and 78,000 ICU beds. It also delivered 32,400 ventilators to government hospitals across the country. Compare this with fact that in the last 70 years, these government hospitals possessed only 12,000 ventilators! It also provided 3.70 crore N95 Masks and 1.60 crore PPEs to State Governments.
When someone asks how various countries have fared against the pandemic, it is easy to look at the total number of cases of each country. But the true measure of a country’s performance is number of cases per million and number of deaths per million. As of 28 November, India has 6,731 cases per million population which is much lower as compared to other countries majorly affected by the pandemic. When it comes to number of deaths per million population, India saw 98 deaths per million population. Currently, India’s curve is showing a downward trend. From the peak of almost 97,894 daily cases in mid-September, on 26 November there were 43,174 cases.
While the nation was fighting the pandemic, there was also an urgent need to fight poverty and there was a need to ensure that the disruption doesn’t become distress for the poor. The Government swung into action to help the poor by announcing various packages for supply of free food grains and cash payment to women and poor senior citizens and farmers, assistance to farmers, relief to building & construction workers, supply free gas cylinders to poor households etc. For instance, 420 million people in India received financial assistance of close to US $ 10 billion.
The impact of the early lockdown in the country and also unlocking of the economy much earlier is seen in most high frequency indicators seeing an uptick. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose from 56.8 in September to 58.9 in October, 2020, registering the highest figure in over a decade. PMI Services index also rose to 54.1 in October, ending the seven-month sequence of contraction, signaling improved market conditions. Passenger vehicle sales reported 2 per cent growth in October 2020, while total domestic sales of two-wheelers increased 16.8 per cent, auguring well for consumption demand. Tax collections swelled to eight-month high, registering a positive year on year growth of 10.2 percent. Railway freight grew at 15.4 per cent in October and 13.6 per cent in the first 10 days of November. Cargo traffic volumes in October have reached 7 per cent of previous year levels, registering a 1.23 per cent growth. Domestic aviation passengers increased from 2.8 lakh in May to 28.32 lakh in August and 39.43 lakh in September and 52.71 lakh in October. In terms of India’s GDP, Q2 of FY20 has experienced contraction by (-) 7.5 per cent, much smaller when compared to the contraction of (-) 23.9 percent reported for Q1 of FY20. Also between these two quarters, already a huge improvement can be seen in private consumption expenditure indicating that the Indian economy promises to bounce back in the few months ahead.