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As the world staggers in its attempts to control the Covid-19 pandemic through vaccination of the people, two vaccine-producing nations in Asia, China and India, take diverse routes to share their supplies with the international community through what is being called “vaccine diplomacy”. While China has only earned brickbats for using the humane gesture to its expansionist policies, India is receiving bouquets for its transparent balancing act of supplying the vaccines to the needy countries while simultaneously catering to its own, massive internal demand.
India launched its Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) mission in January 2021. It was the government’s initiative to supply anti-Covid vaccine gratis, commercially or through the Covas scheme to developing and least developed countries. It came about at a time when these countries were complaining of the first world cornering most of the vaccine supplies for their own populations. Without the ability to either buy them or produce them, these nations found a donor-cum-supplier in India.
This apart, the Indian government took the lead in providing a level playing field for vaccine development and distribution in developing countries. To this end, it teamed up with South Africa to seek an intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) until the pandemic is brought under control.
The mission was rolled out keeping in mind the domestic demand for vaccines. India had an established scientific background in vaccine production and trial technology that helped shape up its initiative. India is the third-largest producer of pharmaceuticals in the world and the Pune-based Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine producer in terms of quantity. India is producing two vaccines at the moment – Covishield developed by Oxford University-AstraZeneca by Serum Institute and Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech – and a few others are in various stages of development including a nasal vaccine. Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory conducted trials of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Writing for a blog of the development policy blog of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, an international development practitioner, Mandakini D. Surie, pointed out to foreign policy factors that may have influenced the Maitri initiative: “India’s vaccine diplomacy also comes against the backdrop of increased geopolitical tensions with China. In the wake of last year’s protracted border dispute between the two countries, Prime Minister Modi emphasized the need for India to be “atmanirbhar” (self-reliant) in the production of goods and services and play a more critical role in global value chains. India’s show of strength in the vaccine race is a powerful expression of this sentiment. And there are signs that the world is paying attention. At the recent QUAD leaders’ summit held on 12 March 2021, the US, Australia, and Japan acknowledged India’s vaccine contributions and agreed that India would lead the production of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as part of a new QUAD-led vaccine initiative.”
The Narendra Modi government met with stiff protests from the Indian opposition parties for the Vaccine Maitri mission. They claimed that the government was ignoring the internal demand for vaccines and focusing only on donating doses abroad. The opposition party leaders literally campaigned for the stoppage of supplies to foreign countries. India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar responded to the opposition: “to the extent that you have margins and the ability and the obligation to help others, I think it’s the decent thing to do, as I said, doing good is also doing smart.”
The Prime Minister was forthright in his reply to the critics, saying India has “walked the talk” even though it had “limited resources” of its own and had struck a balance between protecting “our own 1.3 billion citizens”, supporting “the pandemic response efforts of others” and encouraging “coordinated regional response” in the neighborhood.
Modi said: “We understand fully, that mankind will not defeat the pandemic unless all of us, everywhere, regardless of the color of our passports, come out of it. That is why, this year despite many constraints, we have supplied vaccines to over 80 countries. We know that the supplies have been modest. We know that the demands are huge. We know that it will be a long time before the entire humanity can be vaccinated. At the same time, we also know that hope matters. It matters as much to the citizens of the richest countries as it does to the less fortunate. And so we will continue to share our experiences, our expertise, and also our resources with the entire Humanity in the fight against the pandemic.”
The vaccine diplomacy was rolled out on January 21, 2021. It tapered off by mid-April by which time India had supplied, or donated as the case may be, as much vaccine as it possibly could without disturbing internal supplies. During this period, 66.5 million doses were sent to 95 countries across the world, covering nearly a third of humanity and some of the poorest countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and also some of the richest like Canada and the UK. Of this, 10.7 million were free, 35.8 million commercial, and 19.9 million were sent under the Covax scheme. (Source: https://www.mea.gov.in/vaccine-supply.htm)
India’s neighbors benefited first, with Bangladesh getting 10.3 million doses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to Dhaka in late March to mark that country’s golden jubilee of independence and the centenary of the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Modi took along a gift of 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The other neighbors to get the doses were Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives.
In South America, Brazil received a maximum of 4 million doses while the UK got 5 million. A total of 24.2 million doses went to nearly all countries in Africa with Morocco getting the biggest share of 7 million doses followed by Nigeria with 4 million doses. And Ethiopia with 2 million. Considered a friend of Israel, India did not hesitate to help out Palestine with a consignment of 0.02 million doses. The United Nations received supplies too, with UN Peacekeepers getting 0.2 million doses and UN Health Workers, 0.1 million doses.
The world recognized India’s contribution, with the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) TA Ghebreyesus tweeting to thank India and Modi for “continued support to the global Covid-19 response”. In early March, the 79-member African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) group and the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) lauded India at the WTO for the vaccine supplies to the needy and asked other vaccine-producing countries to emulate India’s example.
In stark contrast to the Indian example, China also embarked on its own version of vaccine diplomacy much earlier than India. However, it elicited responses that ranged from chagrin to outright criticism from the international community as China was accused of trying to project its soft power by exploiting the helplessness of countries in coming to terms with the Covid pandemic.
It tried to steal a march over the United States and other vaccine-producing countries by launching its pandemic diplomacy as early as March 2020 when the first wave of Covid was at its peak after the outbreak in Wuhan, China. It began with what the world derisively called the “mask diplomacy”. Prominent China expert Charles Dunst wrote in the foreign policy and global economics publication, The American Interest: “Its defective gifts’ reflect a defective regime-and the world is beginning to notice.” That was the first salvo fired at China for the simple reason that the millions of masks it “donated” to various countries were rejected after being found defective.
Even as the pandemic spread to Europe from China, in February 2020, China was accused of hoarding medical supplies and equipment. At that time, it accounted for close to half of global imports of face shields, protective garments and equipment, gloves, and goggles from that country. China saw an opportunity to divert attention from the American charge against it over the Covid outbreak by offering to sell face masks to European countries. It contacted Finland first, sending 12.5 tonnes of Chinese medical equipment there. Then came Spain which received supplies worth over $450 million including one million face masks. Slovakia got 3 million masks and testing kits; Hungary received 86 ventilators, Indonesia got 17 tons of supplies, which 150,000 testing kits went to the Czech.
Private companies in China produced the equipment – apart from state-financed companies – but the exports were all made in the name of the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party was reported to have taken credit for donations made by Chinese businessman Jack Ma. Then the problems began for China. The countries receiving the equipment, especially masks, undertook rigorous quality checking under their respective occupational safety and health requirements. The certificates issued by the Chinese attesting to the quality of the supplies were found to be fake.
Czech found that 80 percent of the masks it received were defective. The testing kits sold to Spain were inferior. The Netherlands recalled over half a million defective masks it bought from China. Turkey, Georgia, Philippines also discarded the supplies because of quality issues. The American Interest in its April 15, 2020 edition remarked: “The world is unlikely to ever know the breadth of China’s exported negligence, but contemporary reports seem to be only the tip of the iceberg.”
Undaunted by the growing criticism, President Xi Jinping had a telephonic conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on March 16, 2020, when he said: “China is ready to work with Italy to contribute to international cooperation on epidemic control and to the building of a ‘Health Silk Road’ (HSR). China is convinced that by fighting COVID-19 together, the two countries will deepen their traditional friendship and mutual trust and open up broader prospects in cooperation across the board.” The reference to the HSR betrayed the unconscious linkage to the Belt and Road Initiative, touted as the driver of Xi’s expansionist policies.
An Indian media website, The Print, wrote on June 11, 2020, exposing the intentions behind HSR: “China hopes that HSR will allow it to find newer markets. BRI partner countries will be the new incubators for China’s healthcare systems and technology. The country’s National Health Commission has had an exhaustive plan on the HSR ready since 2017. This includes offers of infrastructure development, capacity building, and identification, prevention, and control of diseases. Chinese contact-tracing apps bundled with e-medicine apps, tools for quarantine, and statistics for authorities could become ubiquitous in BRI member states.”
But the HSR attempt yielded no results because of the inferior quality of medical supplies China “donated” and sold for its selfish purposes. President Xi remained undeterred and this February, he made a fresh attempt to use the pandemic to promote China’s interests in Europe. He focused on improving ties with the 17 central and eastern European nations – its grouping is called the 17+1 Forum. The media, including the South China Morning Post, saw through the movie, with the latter headlining on February 9 that President Xi “offers Covid-19 vaccines and trade ties in bid to keep Central and Eastern Europe on his side”, adding that “skepticism about Beijing is on the rise on the continent and some countries have complained its promises have come to nothing”.
Addressing the Forum, Xi told them he is prepared to not only supply the vaccines but also import more goods from them. China’s state news agency, Xinhua reported that Xi told them that “China would import US$170 billion worth of goods and double the purchase of agricultural products from the region over the next five years”. He also informed them that Chinese companies had “already supplied one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Serbia, and were also working with Hungary, adding that China would actively consider working with other nations if they were interested”.
Some members of the 17+1 Forum voiced their skepticism about Xi’s proposals saying some of the promises never materialized. In fact, two members, Lithuania and Estonia, went to the extent of not sending their representatives to a virtual meeting with Xi. An SCMP report, analyzing this development, quoted Xavier Richet, a professor specializing in the Belt and Road Initiative at the Sorbonne in Paris, as saying: “All the countries of the region (with the exception of Serbia and Hungary) are closing their markets to the Chinese firms in spite of its presence in some of these countries. The big criticism that the 17 make against China is the weakness and asymmetry of their trade with China, which has certainly increased in recent years, but which remains very modest”.
Significantly, the skepticism remained despite the fact that Serbia received the Chinese vaccine at a time when the European Union’s vaccination programs were jeopardized by delays in Astra-Zeneca vaccine production. Serbia, with the help of the Chinese vaccine (from Sinopharm), had the second-fastest rollout in Europe. (IANS/JC)
Scientists temporarily attached a pig's kidney to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for lifesaving transplants.
Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage, but among the hurdles: A sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, causes immediate organ rejection. The kidney for this experiment came from a gene-edited animal, engineered to eliminate that sugar and avoid an immune system attack.
Surgeons attached the pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days. The kidney did what it was supposed to do — filter waste and produce urine — and didn't trigger rejection.
"It had absolutely normal function," said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team last month at NYU Langone Health in New York. "It didn't have this immediate rejection that we have worried about."
This research is "a significant step," said Dr. Andrew Adams of the University of Minnesota Medical School, who was not part of the work. It will reassure patients, researchers and regulators "that we're moving in the right direction."
The dream of animal-to-human transplants, or xenotransplantation, dates to the 17th century with stumbling attempts to use animal blood for transfusions. By the 20th century, surgeons were attempting transplants of organs from baboons into humans, notably Baby Fae, a dying infant, who lived 21 days with a baboon heart.
With no lasting success and much public uproar, scientists turned from primates to pigs, tinkering with their genes to bridge the species gap.
Pigs have advantages over monkeys and apes. They are produced for food, so using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. Pigs have large litters, short gestation periods and organs comparable to those of humans.
Pig heart valves also have been used successfully for decades in humans. The blood thinner heparin is derived from pig intestines. Pig skin grafts are used on burns, and Chinese surgeons have used pig corneas to restore sight.
Kidney ready for transplantation from a live donor Image credit: wikimedia commons
In the NYU case, researchers kept a deceased woman's body on a ventilator after her family agreed to the experiment. The woman had wished to donate her organs, but they weren't suitable for traditional donation.
'Good could come from this'
The family felt "there was a possibility that some good could come from this gift," Montgomery said.
Montgomery himself received a transplant three years ago, a human heart from a donor with hepatitis C because he was willing to take any organ.
"I was one of those people lying in an ICU waiting and not knowing whether an organ was going to come in time," he said.
Several biotech companies are in the running to develop suitable pig organs for transplant to help ease the human organ shortage. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for kidney transplants. Every day, 12 die while waiting.
The advance is a win for Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, the company that engineered the pig and its cousins, a herd of 100 raised in tightly controlled conditions at a facility in Iowa.
The pigs lack a gene that produces alpha-gal, the sugar that provokes an immediate attack from the human immune system.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved the gene alteration in the Revivicor pigs as safe for human food consumption and medicine.
But the FDA said developers would need to submit more paperwork before pig organs could be transplanted into living humans.
"This is an important step forward in realizing the promise of xenotransplantation, which will save thousands of lives each year in the not-too-distant future," said United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt in a statement.
Experts say tests on nonhuman primates and last month's experiment with a human body pave the way for the first experimental pig kidney or heart transplants in living people in the next several years.
Raising pigs to be organ donors feels wrong to some people, but it may grow more acceptable if concerns about animal welfare can be addressed, said Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, who will help develop ethics and policy recommendations for the first clinical trials under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
"The other issue is going to be: Should we be doing this just because we can?" Maschke said. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Transplant, Pig, Human, Kidney, FDA
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Developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, a Decision Support System (DSS) that extends the ability of the existing air quality early warning system (AQEWS) to have decision-making capability for air quality management in Delhi-NCR was launched on Tuesday.
The website for the DSS (https://ews.tropmet.res.in/dss/) is designed to help the Commission for Air Quality Management for NCR and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) by delivering quantitative information about the contribution of emissions from Delhi and its 19 surrounding districts; the contribution of emissions from eight different sectors in Delhi; and the contribution from biomass-burning activities in the neighbouring states.
These information would assist in managing the air quality in a timely manner, a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences said.
The need was stated by the CAQM, which was formed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, during a meeting held in January 2021.
Recently, the Commission reviewed the progress made by IITM and had in principle approved the current version of DSS for air quality management in the Delhi-NCR. The IITM has also developed a new website for DSS with the entire system made operational, the release said.
Union Minister of State for Earth Sciences, Jitendra Singh, while launching the website for AQEWS on the occasion of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' week organised by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, said, "DSS is a significant contribution to 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' on behalf of MoES and IITM and suggestions are invited on this issue."
The website also has a feature whereby the users can create their own emission reduction scenarios (from 20 different districts, including Delhi) so as to examine the possible projected improvement in air quality in Delhi for the next five days.
"This information would explicitly highlight the most important emission sources responsible for the degradation of air quality in Delhi and suggest possible solutions to ameliorate the same. With a plethora of quantitative data, the AQEWS integrated with DSS could become a user-friendly tool for air-quality management in and around Delhi," the release said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Delhi, India, Pollution, IITM, Ministry of Earth Sciences
On the first day of the two-day meeting of BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders on Tuesday, discussions were held on important issues related to education and the National Education Policy-2020. Apart from senior RSS leader Suresh Soni, representatives of various organisations associated with the Sangh Parivar -- working in the field of education -- were present in the meeting in New Delhi.
According to sources, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who attended the meeting on behalf of the government, shared information related to the National Education Policy-2020 and the government's policy on important issues related to the education sector. Pradhan also shared details of the efforts being made by the government in the field of education.
Discussions were also held regarding the impact of the situation arising out of Corona and how much it has affected the education sector. In the meeting, the RSS leaders asked several questions and provided suggestions to the Union Minister regarding the education policy of the government.
According to the sources, RSS wants the policy to be implemented expeditiously. All aspects related to the policy were discussed in Tuesday's meeting. On the second and the last day of the meeting on Wednesday, special issues related to education will be discussed in which representatives of various organisations of the Sangh, Union Ministers and several BJP leaders will be take part.
Meanwhile, in order to convey its point of view to the government on various issues, the Sangh keeps on calling such coordination meetings related to specific issues, in which RSS representatives -- working in that particular area -- provide feedback to the government. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: BJP, RSS, New Education Policy, Education, India