In the midst of disruption, loss and uncertainty, we sense hope within the world’s pursuit towards the highly anticipated coronavirus vaccine. Addressing the nation on India’s Independence Day last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that three Covid-19 vaccine candidates approach advanced stages of testing in the country. Once ready, India will soon begin mass production of the vaccine.

The three leading vaccines being developed in India include: the Oxford vaccine by the Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca; Covaxin by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council for Medical Research, and ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila. Once produced, it indeed goes without saying that India’s closest neighbours, friends, and partners will be a part of its distribution.

Ever since our ancient days, India has advocated for ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or the belief that the world is one family – that the well-being of one, is intrinsically linked to the well-being of others. In recent years, the Government of India, with Prime Minister Modi at the helm, has adopted these values as the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas aur Sabka Vishwas. A priority subset of this is India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Indeed, we have seen these values being put to practice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, guided by the Prime Minister’s ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ or ‘Self-Reliant India Campaign’, India has set itself upon a path towards self-sufficiency in the production of both essential medicines and medical equipment. At the onset of the pandemic, India did not partake in the production of sufficient medical equipment such as ventilators or personal protection equipment kits. However, today, after having built our capacities over the past couple of months, India now produces these items on a massive scale, both for itself as well as for our partner countries.  

In March 2020, Prime Minister Modi led the initiative for regional cooperation among the SAARC member states and had announced a corpus fund of US$ 10 million to provide medical assistance to our neighbours. With its renowned pharmaceutical industry, India quickly took on the role as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’. In a coordinated response, involving several branches of government and multiple private sector pharma companies, India was able to supply large volumes of these medicines to over 150 countries. This, of course, included Bhutan, notwithstanding the logistical challenges imposed by the lockdown in the country.

Apart from supplying medicines and medical equipment (including through the Indian Navy’s Mission Sagar and the Indian Air Force’s Operation Sanjeevani) the Government of India has deployed medical Rapid Response Teams for Covid assistance in various countries. It has also linked health care professionals and pooled our health capacities in the region. All of these actions are reflective of the Prime Minister’s vision of ensuring that people are at the centre of our efforts, in addition to contributing to global health security in the midst of the pandemic. These acts have elevated India’s international standing and will continue to hold us in good stead in the post-Covid world.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has come as a major geopolitical shock and will undoubtedly have a long term impact on global politics. However, India’s fundamental policies will remain unchanged – that of according priority to our neighbours in South Asia. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated India’s willingness and capacities to support our friends and partners during this difficult period.

With Bhutan, India has extended full support in terms of ensuring uninterrupted cross-border movement of commodities, the opening of a new trade route, facilitating the repatriation of over 1350 Bhutanese nationals, handing over essential medical supplies and equipment, as well as the virtual training of Bhutanese health professionals.

Going forward, we are delighted to partner with Bhutan on clinical trials and testing of Covid-19 candidate vaccines, facilitating both the objectives of enhancing skills in Bhutan and developing point to point connectivity between the regulatory agencies of both our countries.

We are honoured that India’s gestures have been publicly appreciated by the Bhutanese leadership and view this as a reflection of the trust and understanding, existing and binding our two countries together. Of course we will continue to stand alongside Bhutan, to get past the pandemic and ensure a sustainable recovery.

As a responsible regional leader and also the largest economy in South Asia, India will continue to employ its capabilities to work for the shared security and prosperity of all countries in the region. We believe that our growth can serve as a lifting tide for our neighbours. Believing in “Nishkama Karma”, where we do not expect reciprocity by virtue of our resources, India is committed to ensuring an affordable and equitable access of the coronavirus vaccine and along the way, to a safer planet.

Contributed by 

Ruchira Kamboj, 

Ambassador of India 

to Bhutan