India believes there is an urgent need for carrying out "major reforms" in the World Health Organization to ensure a timely, focused and effective response to potential future pandemics, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a meeting of the health ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries through video-conference, he said the global crisis arising out of COVID-19 pandemic is further compounded by ever-evolving new variants of the virus, and highlighted the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health to defeat it, a Health Ministry statement said.
"Therefore, it is desirable that we should continue to exchange our experiences, learnings, best practices as well as innovations to strengthen our public health systems," he was quoted as saying in the statement.
He said India is working extensively to increase core capacities to manage the present situation and ensure long-term interventions for mitigating any such future crisis.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
The minister added, "India - like many other countries - believes that there is an urgent need for carrying out major reforms in the World Health Organisation so that we can ensure timely, focused and effective responses for potential future pandemics."
He expressed hope that the work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee as well as the International Health Regulations Review Committees under the WHO Health Emergencies Program will be crucial in steering a direction to achieve the much-needed multilateral cooperation in the field of global health, the statement said.
He also underlined the need to prioritisation of investment in public health.
"We need to conquer the adversary with collaborations and by supplementing each other's capacities, by pooling our resources and through enhanced technical support," he stated.
Vardhan observed the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a profound blow to the SCO member states on the health and economic fronts.
He also said that India believes that besides bilateral discussions on the issue, a multilateral approach which would create an institutional framework for mobility of health workers is the need of the hour.
"For example, India is currently collaborating with Japan and discussing with the United Kingdom and other countries from the EU regarding a nursing service exchange programme," he was quoted as saying.
The need for collectively addressing methods to mitigate the global health risk and emerging threats using the 'One Health' approach was stressed upon, the statement said.
Vardhan stated, "India has started the 'Institute for One Health of International Standard' which may be leveraged to have a One Health International Hub in India which will address existing or potential risks which originate through the interface of animal-human systems."
He also informed the attendees how India has utilised digital technologies extensively for inventory management and a timely distribution of Covid vaccines.
India had also launched the 'Vaccine Maitri' to provide vaccines to partner countries, he said, and emphasised how the Indian traditional system of medicine has contributed substantially in boosting the immunity of the general population during COVID-19.
"Under the able leadership of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India had proposed the setting up of an Expert Working Group on Traditional Medicine under the existing institutional framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. A Draft to this effect was also circulated last year. I take this opportunity to propose that we should hold a meeting soon to discuss and finalize the modalities of the Expert Working Group," he said.
"This should be done on a war footing so that we may set up the expert group much ahead of the meeting next year," he was quoted as saying in the statement.
He concluded his speech by underlining the centuries-old historic linkages between the SCO nations connected by geography and enriched by links of culture, cuisine and commerce.
"I call upon all of you today to remind each other of this bedrock of our modern-day relationship. It is for the sake of this ages-old friendship that we all must stand together and work for each other's betterment and for the betterment of the SCO region. Only shared responsibilities and shared idealism will help us achieve these shared goals," he said.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.