Aiding India in its time of need just as it sent help during last year”s Covid surge: US official

Washington : The United States is helping India in its time of need amid a raging second wave of the COVID-19 infections just like it extended help when the hospitals here were strained due to the pandemic, an official in the Joe Biden Administration has told lawmakers.

With the support of the Defence Department, USAID has airlifted critical medical supplies, Jeremy M. Konyndyk the Executive Director of COVID-19 Task Force Office of the Administrator, USAID, told a House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact.

“Our support is improving India”s capacity to provide life-saving oxygen to COVID-19 patients,” he said.

The Biden Administration, he said, is constantly consulting with the Government of India, non-governmental stakeholders and its interagency partners to ensure that USAID”s response is targeted to where it is most needed and will be most effective.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is helping India in its time of need.”

As this crisis continues to unfold, USAID stands with its staff in India, some of whom have lost family members to the virus or have themselves been gravely ill, he told the lawmakers.

Konyndyk said what started as a COVID-19 crisis in India is impacting its immediate neighbours and beyond.

Last month, when Nepal”s per capita COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths surpassed India”s, USAID responded swiftly with three flights of supplies and assistance to improve Nepal”s ability to respond to this crisis, he said.

“This includes improving laboratory and hospital testing capacity, helping both federal and local governments facilitate infection prevention and control, supporting remote services for those seeking access to care, and addressing the secondary effects of the pandemic.”

USAID has also sent two flights to Bangladesh and one flight that made stops in the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in the past week as those countries seek to meet the urgent health needs of their populations. One additional flight is planned to provide a final round of commodities to Nepal and Pakistan, he told the lawmakers.

In her testimony, Gayle E. Smith, the Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security at the Department of State said the number of deaths being reported in India is an undercount.

“Given low testing rates in many countries and gaps in death registrations, the numbers we do have do not tell the full story: 351,000 deaths in India, for example, is most certainly an undercount,” she said.

The US is providing significant emergency assistance to the hardest-hit countries in South Asia, including India and Nepal, by allocating more than USD 300 million under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which President Joe Biden had signed on March 11.

Combined with the generous USD 400 million in support from American private sector donors, more than a half-billion dollars in assistance has been provided to South Asia, she said.

Gayle said the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is pursuing investments designed to expand global vaccine production and manufacturing in critical markets, including through the March announcement by the Quad Partnership, that includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, to support expanding manufacturing capacity at India-based Biological E.

“In Africa, DFC is currently working with the International Finance Corporation and others to boost investment in vaccine manufacturing in the continent. This will support increased production this year and onward — in Africa and for Africa,” she added.

Gayle said the administration supports a waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines under the World Trade Organization”s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Its support for intellectual property protections is firm but the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The next steps will include text-based negotiations at the WTO, she told the lawmakers.

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