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NEW DELHI: India on Monday stressed on the importance of updating the current playbook of responding to pandemic and bio-threats with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla stating that the novel coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the limitations of the global manufacturing supply chains to cope with the demand of essential medical supplies and equipment.

Addressing the Pune-based MIT World Peace University via video link on the “Importance of Multilateralism in the Time of a Global Pandemic –an Indian perspective," Shringla said covid-19 was forcing countries to re-examine their healthcare infrastructure, the availability of pharmaceutical products and essential medicines besides the development of secure and reliable supply chains for critical health and livelihood related products.

These problems could not be solved in isolation, Shringla said adding that making sense of the complex scenario, “matching it with our requirements and obligations, and leveraging our own resources and capabilities, is an imperative for us."

During the pandemic, India had gone out of its way to be a “net provider of health security," Shringla said adding: “We decided, in these very difficult circumstances, to be a responsible member of the international community and take a far-sighted view that will stand us in good stead in the post-pandemic world."

“India was able to supply, after ensuring adequate domestic stockpiles, large volumes of these drugs to friends and consumers across the world. It is also making its medical and public health expertise and capacity available to the entire South Asian region," he said in his speech. The reference was to India shipping consignments of the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine and the antipyretic paracetamol to countries across the world.

While the global lockdown had posed many challenges to the logistics of supplying drugs, India, with a “mixture of innovative means" was ensuring delivery of medicines. In all, “India has provided medical assistance, on commercial or aid basis, to 133 countries across the globe," he said.

On India’s priorities in international health diplomacy, Shringla said India was working on "Health for All" through Universal Health Coverage. The government was working on strengthening health systems, improving access to free medicines and diagnostics and reducing catastrophic healthcare spending. The government’s “Ayushman Bharat" programme was on its way to become the largest government funded health protection scheme in the world, he said describing it as a game changer whose “successful execution will have a huge positive impact global health indicators."

India is also betting that universal immunization and sanitation will also be game-changers, he said. The prevention and management of non communicable diseases, treatment of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and supply of medical devices like cardiac implants at significantly reduced prices were other priorities, he said.

India was also committed to ensuring access to affordable medicines, he said adding that New Delhi believed this and the creation of an enabling legal and trade environment for public health were critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

For the future, India hopes and expects that “the pandemic will lead to an upsurge in investment in research, vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. India is well placed to contribute substantially to this coming surge. We have a strong R&D (research and development) tradition in domestic institutions and in global R&D hubs. I have already spoken of our pharma industry. India is also a recognized leader in vaccines. We produce over 60% of vaccines globally and have a record of supplying of high quality vaccines to the developing world affordably and equitably," Shringla said.

Describing India as the “emerging market" in the healthcare sector, Shringla said that this involved spends running into hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. “Leveraging our market to support the creation of a class leading eco-system for healthcare has, therefore, to be one our highest priorities," he said.

Besides this, there was a need for an “international conversation" focused on improving the capacities to respond to future mega-disasters, Shringla said.

“The whole range of global health structures, and actors - governments, non-state actors, international organisations, development finance institutions, foundations etc - need to be mobilized in the same spirit towards a 21st century international biosecurity dialogue. The current playbook of responding to pandemic and bio threats needs to be updated," he said.

Conversations on health need to look beyond a purely public health or disaster management approach and address issues like the creation of a "surge" capacity “that is available for all at the time of greatest need," he said. This would need to look at global mechanisms for pooling research and development and would require pulling together conversations on vaccines, basic sciences and technology, he added.

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