India’s Covid-19 response has been strategic: WHO official

India is in an advantageous position for providing its population with Covid-19 vaccines with manufacturers ramping up capacities, and the highest political leadership leading the response, WHO regional director for south-east Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh tells Sushmi Dey . Excerpts from an interview:

In India, active cases are plateauing helped by declining new cases and faster recoveries over past few weeks. What does this indicate?

India’s response has been strategic, tailored to the evolving pandemic and should be seen in the context of its unique challenges — demographic, geographic among many others. We need to continue to strengthen implementation of core public health measures — test, detect, isolate and treat — and as individuals practice physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, and wear a mask.

Many countries that earlier showed signs of tapering are now showing a rising graph of infections. Can India too witness a second wave?

Like the rest of the world, India also remains vulnerable to Covid-19. What is clear is that when you ease off pressure from the virus, the virus bounces back.

Do you think that lockdowns are an effective defence from the virus and is there is a need to impose one again in India?

Physical distancing measures and movement restrictions can slow Covid-19. Decisions to tighten or loosen or re-institute these measures should be based on scientific evidence and real-world experience and take into account other factors like economic factors, food security etc.

How soon are you expecting a safe and effective vaccine in India?

Around 200 candidate vaccines are at some stage of development. Considering the time taken for licensure and mass production after trials have been completed, the earliest that vaccine doses could be available is early-to mid-2021.

India has proposed to WTO to waive off patent on Covid related drugs, diagnostics and vaccine. Please comment.

In the WHO south-east Asia Region, member countries have adopted a ministerial declaration in September 2018 to encourage management of intellectual property and trade rules and full use of TRIPS flexibilities for enhanced accessibility and affordability of new medical products, including new therapies for priority diseases. Also, there are a range of policy options open to the countries to deal with public health issues such as compulsory licensing for a patent under the TRIPS Agreement of WTO. These options were also reiterated by all the countries in the recent 2020 World Health Assembly resolution.

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