Right priorities: On U.S. COVID-19 aid to India

Even as it waits for help from the U.S., India must accelerate its vaccination programme

Updated - April 28, 2021 01:02 am IST

Published - April 28, 2021 12:15 am IST

In a phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his government would quickly deploy a number of COVID-19-related supplies to help India battle its current crisis with the pandemic. The move comes after what many saw as a delay in the U.S.’s response to the situation. After a few days, where the Biden administration seemed to dither, making the point that protecting Americans first was in the world’s interest , it appears to have amended its stand, in some part due to pressure from U.S. Congressmen, business chambers and academics. Over the weekend, senior U.S. officials reached out to India and made public comments expressing concern and sympathy for the people affected as India sees over 3 lakh new cases a day and a record number of deaths . In the short term, what India needs from abroad is two-fold: medicines and oxygen-management devices, including containers, concentrators and generators. It is heartening that more than a dozen countries, including the U.S., have promised to supply these within a week, and some of those supplies have already begun to arrive. In addition to the U.S. government’s supplies, the U.S. private sector has also mobilised aid for various COVID-19 resources in India. In the longer term, New Delhi wants Washington to consider a shift in its long-held state policies for the duration of the pandemic, which may be a more difficult proposition as it includes setting aside patent rights for pharmaceuticals produced in the U.S. and supporting the India-South Africa petition at the World Trade Organization for waiving all TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) so vaccines can be manufactured generically for the next few years. The U.S. should consider its assistance to India both in light of their relationship and of the fact that as a key global supplier of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, India’s faltering steps in the fight against COVID-19 will impact the world.

There is no denying that the perceived delay in the U.S.’s response to the crisis in India, which is not just a bilateral strategic partner but key to the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific strategy as a member of the Quad, has caused some disappointment in South Block. However, it is unlikely that this will seriously impact the partnership, nor should such matters affect the broader relationship. There is also a kernel of truth in the U.S.’s earlier assertion that the American government has a “special responsibility” to American citizens first and addressing their COVID-19 needs was also in the world’s interests. Instead of chiding the U.S. for its delay, New Delhi would do well to learn from this prioritisation, and complete its vaccination programme for all Indians, even as it uses all its resources and those received from the U.S. and other countries to rescue the nation from the current ravages of the pandemic.

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