While the world was not prepared to face the current pandemic, it has spread affecting millions of lives in most of the world. This is the high time for the international cooperation, strong relationships, and effective science diplomacy. After the most successful ground-breaking diplomatic agreements in history i.e. Montreal Protocol, which ended the use of ozone-depleting substances in cars, fridges, and air conditioners and bought back the ozone layer on track to recover completely by 2018, an improbable collaboration between scientists and diplomats may again help to combat against COVID-19. However, the cooperation between governments and international institutions is at an all-time low. The recent statement of the World Health Organization (WHO), "...The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself, it's the lack of global solidarity and global leadership." applies to all world powers and encourages them to unite against the current pandemic.
India’s responses against COVID-19
India has taken up strong national and international research programs to address COVID-19 related challenges, primarily focussed on basic research, diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines development in close collaboration with industries and start-up companies. India is committed to working closely with its counterparts in different countries to share data and development of need-based scientific solutions against the COVID-19.
The announcement of USD 10 million towards a COVID-19 emergency fund by an Indian Prime Minister and putting together a team of specialists for the SAARC states represent India’s positive move toward smooth South Asian integration. The Prime Minister of India also participated in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group in response to the COVID-19 and ensured medical supplies to over 123 partner countries, including 59 members of NAM. India has already supplied anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol to more than 60 corona virus-hit countries. Apart from SAARC and NAM, the Indian PM Narendra Modi’s new stand on strengthening the WHO at the virtual G20 summit and India’s presidentship on the World Health Assembly makes India a significant player in structuring the post-COVID global economy.
India has been helping its scientific community to connect with researchers from other countries like Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Portugal, Korea, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam to find the solutions against COVID-19. Bilateral calls with Australia, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, United States have been raised to work in areas such as antiviral coatings and other preventive technologies; data analytics, modeling, artificial intelligence applications, and bioinformatics; screening and diagnostic testing; development of immunotherapeutic and vaccines. The ‘Indo-U.S. Virtual Networks on COVID-19’ call is being developed to convincingly demonstrate the benefits and value of the Indo-U.S. partnership to advance research and address critical challenges related to COVID-19. Out-of-the-box innovative ideas were also invited to address proof-of-concept based on sound science and engineering research, the potential for commercial viability, and practicality of the idea/ innovation/ technology.
Apart from bilateral cooperation, India is working with Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa through the BRICS program, A joint call was launched covering the areas: diagnostics; vaccines and therapeutics; repurposing of drugs; and intervention of artificial intelligence, high-performance computing for COVID-19 across multiplatform ranging from disease surveillance to diagnosis. BRICS countries would play a vital role against the COVID-19 which covers more than 25 percent of the world territory with more than 40 percent of the world population.
Apart from the developments of protective equipment, diagnostics kits, and therapeutics; research, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines against COVID is not an easy task for a single nation. India has its presence in most of these programs and already showed its extraordinary capacity for vaccine development, manufacturing, and distribution. India has continued a sustained and regular engagement with Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the USA in this direction and optimistic to play a vital role in making vaccines accessible and affordable worldwide. India’s large capacity in vaccine and drug manufacturing will play a key role in scaling up the availability of these important products world-wide.
The present crisis demonstrates the shortcomings of the current interaction between international relations and scientific cooperation. International scientific cooperation will have mutual benefits to all partners in terms of complementary research, time, capabilities, and resources, resulting in impactful research outcomes that may not be achieved individually. Science Diplomacy plays an important role to support and coordinate the openness and international cooperation of science, industry, and policy establishments to tackle global emergencies.
Jyoti Sharma1* and Sanjeev Kumar Varshney2
Senior Scientist1, Head & Advisor2, International Cooperation Division (ICD),
Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India
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