PM calls for WHO reform, streamlining approval process for vaccines

Narendra Modi said "India's vaccination programme is largest in world."

May 12, 2022 08:16 pm | Updated May 13, 2022 08:07 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the second Global COVID summit through video conference, in New Delhi on May 12, 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the second Global COVID summit through video conference, in New Delhi on May 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: Twitter/@narendramodi

A week after the government refuted the World Health Organisation’s figures for deaths during the Covid pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a reform of the UN health body, and a review of its processes on vaccine approvals.

Speaking at the second global Covid summit co-hosted by the United States, which was addressed virtually by U.S. President Joseph Biden, and a number of other leaders including from the African Union, European Union, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Japan and South Korea, Mr. Modi also called for the World Trade Organisation to be more “flexible” on the issue of patent waivers, where a joint India-South Africa proposal made in 2020 has not yet been adopted.

The US and other hosts invited Taiwan to attend the conference, while China and Russia did not participate.

“WHO must be reformed and strengthened to build a more resilient global health security architecture,” the Prime Minister said in his speech at the opening session. “We also call for stream-lining WHO's approval process for vaccines and therapeutics to keep supply chains stable and predictable.”

In a report released last week, the WHO had estimated 4.7 million deaths directly or indirectly linked to Covid-19 in India in the years 2020 and 2021, about ten times what the government figures estimate, which would make the death toll in India the highest in the world.

Government sources had called the study flawed, and contested the data, collection methodology and model used by the WHO, adding that India’s concerns had been raised with WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus during his visit to India to launch a WHO centre for traditional medicine along with PM Modi. India also protested the long delay in obtaining WHO approval for the Indian-made Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech, which was finally given in November 2021.

In his speech at the session, Mr. Ghebreyesus referred to the massive global Covid deaths estimate of just under 15 million people worldwide, and called for a renewed push for vaccine supply and distribution to reach a goal of 70% of the population, funding the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and more contributions to close the funding gap for countering Covid, which he said was short by about $15 billion.

U.S. President Biden addressed the conference just as the US reached what he called a “tragic milestone” of one million Covid deaths and “one million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”. While he didn’t refer to the India-South Africa proposal for the full waiver of patents on Covid medicines and vaccines, which is still being discussed in Geneva, he announced that the US will share “critical COVID-19 technologies” through the WHO, including stabilized spike protein that is used in many COVID-19 vaccines.

In his speech, Mr. Modi said India’s vaccination programme is the largest in the world and that India has fully vaccinated almost 90 percent of the adult population. China has a higher population than India, and claims it has administered about 331 crore vaccines (3.3 billion) compared to about 191 crore vaccines administered in India.

“India supplied over 200 million doses to 98 countries, bilaterally and through COVAX (global distribution network). India has developed low-cost COVID mitigation technologies for testing, treating and data management. We have offered these capabilities to other countries,” the Prime Minister added.

The conference was co-hosted by United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal, and included the participation of more than 30 countries. According to a US government release, the 2nd global covid summit brought in more than $3 billion in new financial commitments from the participants, multilateral and philanthropic organisation that has not been announced,in addition to commitments made in 2021 and 2022. 

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