India offers cooperation to develop affordable Ebola drugs, vaccines

United Nations: India will cooperate in the development of vaccines and drugs to fight the Ebola virus “for the poorest of the poor at realistic prices”, Indian Ambassador to the UN Asoke Kumar Mukerji has told the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

The Indian ambassador said, “The international community must support research and development of a vaccine to cure Ebola, which must be made available especially to the poorest of the poor at realistic prices, and India is committed to cooperation to this end.”

“India has a track record of participating actively in multilateral efforts to tackle public health emergencies like our response to the HIV/AIDS issue a decade ago in Africa and Asia,” he added.

UNGA President Sam Kutesa warned that the Ebola outbreak, now mostly affecting three West African countries, “could quickly evolve from a regional to an international crisis”.

With Ebola cases reaching the shores of the US and Spain, he said, “In today’s interconnected world, Ebola is a threat that can easily land at any nation’s doorstep.”

Mukerji said, “India has put in place several measures to deal with the possible threat within the country and activated the relevant national disaster response mechanisms to maintain high alert.”

The world body has set up the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to mobilise action against the crisis now ravaging Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“Given the unprecedented nature of the epidemic, the international community must work together to come up with innovative, yet practical solutions to contain the further spread of Ebola,” the UNGA president said.

Mukerji said India has given 10 million dollars to the UN Secretary General's Fund for Ebola and 2 million dollars for buying protective gear for those at the frontlines of fighting the disease.

India has not so far committed to sending medical personnel like the US and Cuba have.

But going by the experience in dealing with the AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa, India's potential long-term contribution to combat Ebola could be in developing affordable drugs and vaccines for the “poorest of the poor” and making them widely available.

Indian generic pharmaceutical companies like Cipla and Ranbaxy produce cheap drugs for AIDS, which have won acclaim from governments and activists. The Clinton Foundation has worked with Indian drug manufacturers to bring down the prices of a year's supply of AIDS drugs to less than 200 dollars.

At one one point, when it seemed that Indian companies may have to stop making the generic drugs because of New Delhi's trade agreements with Europe, UN officials went to the extent of saying that millions could die in Africa without them.

However, Indian companies were able to continue making them.

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