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After South Asia, India sends coronavirus vaccines to Morocco in Africa

Royal Air Maroc plane brings coronavirus vaccines from India to Moroccan capital Rabat in Africa (Photo courtesy: @indembrabat)

India has flown the first lot of coronavirus vaccines to Africa, after having shipped these to friendly South Asian neighbours when a Royal Air Maroc plane left India for Moroccan capital Rabat on Friday evening.

The Indian embassy in Rabat tweeted: "In a manifestation of excellent relationship between India and Morocco, the first consignment of COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and produced by Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer was shipped from India for Morocco today." The embassy later replied to its own tweet, saying: "AffordableVaccine4All."

Earlier this week, Minister for External Affairs, S Jaishankar had met the ambassadors of African countries. He tweeted: "Our conversation covered COVID recovery, vaccines, air travel, and digital experiences. Also spoke about India's current priorities & challenges. Assured them of India's interest in an early IAFS (India-Africa Forum Summit) Summit."

Jaishankar hinted that his talks with the African envoys did touch vaccines and path to recovery. African countries including multilateral agencies are worried over vaccine hoarding by the developed world. Canada has hoarded enough vaccines to give five jabs per person. Other Western countries too have reserved or pre-booked more vaccines with manufacturers than they require. Stockpiling of vaccines has led to concern that poorer nations may not be able to fend for their citizens – ironically, prolonging the existence of the virus, thereby keeping everyone vulnerable to the infection.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hit out over "vaccine inequity," saying this could amount to a "catastrophic moral failure" on a global scale. The US, Canada, the UK and most European countries are into their second month of mass vaccination even as the lower-income countries fret about protecting their people with no vaccine supply on the horizon.

A number of statements by high ranking Indian officials indicate that the country plans to support African countries in their battle against an unpredictable pandemic.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan addressed that concern. Dr Vardhan reassured the WHO's executive board session this Monday that India remains committed to "equitable distribution of vaccines." He added that vaccines have brought a ray of hope and now governments across the world have to ensure that the ray of hope reaches everyone.

Barely a fortnight back, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that India would continue to support African countries and empower Africa on the principles of "inclusivity, sustainability, transparency and socio-economic development with dignity and respect." Shringla was referring to the debt-trap that many African countries find themselves in owing to 'concessional loans' from China. He also highlighted supplying critical medicines to African countries during the Covid crisis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated at least twice this month that India will help the world meet its healthcare needs. On Wednesday, Modi tweeted: “India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community. Supplies of Covid vaccines to several countries will commence tomorrow, and more will follow in the days ahead."

For Africa, the current situation is a throwback to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that ravaged nations due to prohibitive costs of drugs. Eventually, high-quality but inexpensive generics from India saved the day for the continent – massively bringing down the cost of treatment and helping nations beat back AIDS. Indian medicines proved effective in a situation where the West failed.

As the vaccine factory of the world, with a dependable pharmaceutical base, India is at the forefront in helping the world combat the pandemic. Last year, India had provided hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tablets to over 100 countries including the US in the early stages of coronavirus – when information was still in its infancy.

With the vaccines giving hope to governments and to people, India has stepped up its "vaccine diplomacy." The supply of the much-sought after vaccines to Morocco could be India's first step towards addressing the "vaccine inequity" for Africa, even as it manages its own ambitious vaccination programme.