Vaishna Ashok Writes: The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the potential of and imperative for developing medical diplomacy. India has been one of the front-runners of vaccine diplomacy during the pandemic, sharing its vaccine doses with 95 countries across the globe. Additionally, India has been engaged in multilateral medical diplomacy with QUAD and has directed its focus towards waiving vaccine patents in World Trade Organisation. However, India’s generosity has backfired with an acute shortage of vaccines for its domestic population during the second wave. While it may seem counter-productive to discuss medical diplomacy against this backdrop, it is essential that nations chart the course for the post-pandemic world by incorporating the lessons learnt during the pandemic.
The leadership in many countries and multilateral fora has emphasised on preparing for the next pandemic and constructing a renewed approach towards national and global health securities. Hindol Sengupta, Vice president of Invest India, recently proposed the creation of a regional crack force for South Asia, composed of proficient health professionals and services from all South Asian countries. Their primary task would be to resolve public health crises in the region. Prime Minister Modi’s suggestion of a special visa for health workers, regional air ambulance service and research database would be incorporated into this initiative. The force would gradually expand into a reliable medical corps for South Asia, immune to any political interests and conflicts. It is undeniable that such a multilateral medical task force impervious to vested national interests is idealistic in view of the geopolitical developments in South Asia; yet it is an ideal that nations should work towards. The pandemic has exposed the lapses in the health infrastructure and policy framework of every nation. A multilateral coordinated effort in research and resolution of health crises and intergovernmental funding of this initiative can pave the way for creating resilient healthcare systems and universal healthcare security. The creation and sustenance of such a task force will surely be a scientific and humanitarian accomplishment – a stepping stone to claiming this century as the Asian Century. If developed further, the initiative may even lead to universal healthcare policies, which has the potential to improve the health of the global population, for healthcare needs and climate change-induced complications are issues that transcend borders.
While this proposition may appear antithetical to the emphasis on self-reliance and sufficiency under the ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’, it is in fact in consonance with it. By being a part of a regional medical corps, India is by no means hindering its domestic medical capabilities but merely contributing to and gaining from the finest medical forces in South East Asia to refine and upgrade its domestic medical competence. While it is critical that the corps remain apolitical and sustainable, it should unlock new avenues of diplomacy and healthcare cooperation between nations. Medical diplomacy through such avenues can test and build better pandemic preparedness strategies. Such innovative approaches are warranted in expanding global capacity in tackling health crises of large magnitudes, such as the current pandemic, and aggrandizing the stature of South East Asia among the international community.
Haidar, Suhasini. Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | What went wrong with India’s vaccine diplomacy? 23 April 2021. 12 May 2021. <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/worldview-with-suhasini-haidar-what-went-wrong-with-indias-vaccine-diplomacy/article34394622.ece>.
Sengupta, Hindol. Medicine beyond borders in the subcontinent. 6 May 2021. 12 May 2021. <https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2021/may/06/medicine-beyond-borders-in-the-subcontinent-2299010.html>.