US vice-president Kamala Harris
WASHINGTON: Asserting that the “welfare of India is critically important to the United States,” US vice-president Kamala Harris, whose mother hailed from India and whose aunt is a physician in Chennai, pledged that the Biden administration will do even more for India than the aid currently in the pipeline and said the two countries and the global community will get through the pandemic together.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, when our hospital beds were stretched, India sent assistance. And today, we are determined to help India in its hour of need. We do this as friends of India, as members of the Asian Quad, and as part of the global community. I believe that if we continue to work together – across nations and sectors – we will all get through this,” Harris said in remarks at a diaspora event to discuss bolstering aid to India.
The US vice-president had been trolled by some critics for being indifferent to New Delhi’s fight against the second upsurge of Covid-19 given her maternal connection, but she put her close ties to India up front at the meeting, acknowledging, “As many of you know, generations of my family come from India. My mother was born and raised in India. And I have family members who live in India today.”
“The surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking. As soon as the dire nature of the situation became apparent, our Administration took action,” she said, noting that India and the United States have the greatest number of Covid-19 cases in the world.
“Already, we have delivered refillable oxygen cylinders, with more to come. We have delivered oxygen concentrators, with more to come. We have delivered N95 masks, and have more ready to send. We have delivered doses of Remdesivir to treat Covid patients,” she added, indicating that the aid from Washington would continue to flow till New Delhi got a grip on the situation.
The US vice-president’s mother Shyamala Gopalan was a cancer researcher and her aunt (Shyamala’s sister) Dr Sarala Gopalan is a physician in Chennai, was Head of the Gynaecology Department at PGIMER in Chandigarh. Harris has spoken often of the strong scientific temper that infused in her and her sister Maya Harris, a civil rights lawyer.
Harris also pointed out that the US has announced its full support for suspending patents on Covid-19 vaccines to help India and other nations vaccinate their people more quickly, even though there is opposition to this from several US lawmakers on the right and even with the Democratic Party and the administration.
But the administration’s move, engineered by President Biden and his own broad commitment to loosen patent stranglehold pharma giants have on life-saving medication, has been welcomed by progressive lawmakers like Pramila Jayapal, a Congresswoman from Washington state who is also originally from Chennai.
“By heeding the call of a global grassroots movement and a majority of House Democrats…this administration is restoring US global leadership by putting human life above pharmaceutical profits. This life-saving decision to reverse the Trump Administration’s shameful obstruction of international efforts temporarily waive patent monopolies could not come a moment too soon, as India, Brazil, and countries across the world experience terrifying new surges in Covid-19 infections and deaths,” Jayapal said, amid skepticism about any immediate outcome of the White House decision.
Japayal, who had a conference call with India’s ambassador Taranjit Sandhu on Thursday, noted that wealthy countries have administered more than 80 percent of global vaccines while low-income countries have received just 0.3 percent, and “redressing this injustice requires deploying every tool in our arsenal, and this waiver is a vital first step.”