As world closes its doors on African nations over Omicron COVID-19 variant, India extends a helping hand

The Centre has announced that in addition to providing COVID-19 vaccines, it will also be ready to supply essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators

FP Staff November 30, 2021 10:35:01 IST
As world closes its doors on African nations over Omicron COVID-19 variant, India extends a helping hand

An employee packs boxes containing vials of Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, at the Serum Institute of India in Pune, as exports of coronavirus vaccines to the UN-backed COVAX distribution program resumes. AP

The Omicron COVID-19 variant has sparked fears across the world with countries across the globe scrambling to prevent it from spreading any further. Several countries have announced flight bans affecting seven African nations, while others, including India, have tightened measures to avoid a further outbreak.

In this type of environment, India has once again stepped up and offered its support to the countries affected in Africa.

The move was lauded by many, including England batting legend Kevin Pietersen. He lauded India’s move on Twitter.

What is India doing to help Africa?

As the World Health Organisation designated Omicron as a “variant of concern”, India on Monday said that it expressed their solidarity with the countries, particularly in Africa, who have so far been affected by the Omicron variant.

The government announced plans to supply Made-in-India vaccines through COVAX or bilaterally.

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A statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs on 29 November said that the central government has cleared all orders placed so far by COVAX for supplies of Covishield vaccines including to African countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho.

The statement also added, "India also stands ready to supply essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators, as may be required."

As of date, India has supplied more than 25 million doses of Made-in-India vaccines to 41 countries in Africa, including nearly one million doses as grant to 16 countries and more than 16 million doses under the COVAX facility to 33 countries.

India resumed export of COVID-19 vaccines under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ programme in early November. The initiative started up again after a seven month pause when India was struggling to get its population vaccinated.

Under the scheme, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Morocco, South Africa, Afghanistan, Mexico, DR Congo, Nigeria and the United Kingdom have received vaccine doses from India.

China’s helping hand

India’s announcement of extending a helping hand came after President Xi Jinping said China would offer another one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to African countries.

The pledge of the additional vaccine doses is on top of the nearly 200 million that China has already supplied to the continent.

Xi said that his country would donate 600 million doses directly. A further 400 million doses would come from other sources, such as investments in production sites.

“We must continue to fight together against COVID,” Xi was quoted as saying on Monday. “We must prioritise the protection of our people and close the vaccination gap."

Africa’s poor vaccination rates

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus infection is just another hurdle for Africa, which is already battling with poor vaccination rates.

On 1 October, the WHO reported that the overall figure for those fully vaccinated is only 4.4 percent, compared to the European Union which has seen around 62 percent of its population fully vaccinated.

Moreover, the WHO had said that only 15 of the 54 countries had achieved the target of vaccinating 10 percent of its population by end of September.

According to reported information, Africa today has only vaccinated around 7 percent of its population.

Experts note that the emergence of the new variant has brought into sharp focus the consequences of global vaccine inequity as well as the discriminatory practices that have been directed at southern African countries.

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, one of the groups behind the UN-backed COVAX shot-sharing initiative, was quoted as telling The Associated Press , "The virus is a ruthless opportunist, and the inequity that has characterised the global response has now come home to roost."

The COVAX vaccine sharing programme was supposed to address the inequality, but it has fallen woefully short.

With inputs from agencies

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