Is US Support for Vaccine Patent Waiver Window Dressing?

test this Is US Support for Patent Waiver Window Dressing?

The U.S. announced its support for patent waivers, but it will be a long, drawn-out process that will make little difference to the catastrophe in India and other poor countries. The U.S. failed to promise to export critical material needed for producing the virus in developing countries. Vijay Prashad and Ricardo Petrella on with Paul Jay.


Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to This segment is produced in collaboration with Inter Press Service, which provides news and views from the global South. Please don’t forget the donate button at the top of the webpage, the subscribe button on YouTube, and share this wherever you can. Be back in a second.

The COVID crisis in India has reached catastrophic proportions. Reuters reports that, “A top scientific adviser to the Indian government warned on Wednesday the country would inevitably face further waves of the coronavirus pandemic as almost 4,000 people died in the space of a day.” Most experts think these numbers are severely underestimated. With hospitals scrambling for beds and oxygen in response to a deadly second surge in infections, the World Health Organization said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week, and a quarter of the deaths. Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies. In spite of months of calls for the relaxation of intellectual property rules on pharmaceutical products to expand the global vaccine supply, the World Trade Organization has yet to do so.

CNN reports that, “Divisions within the Biden administration persist over whether to ease some patent restrictions on vaccines, according to people familiar with the matter as the president nears a decision on loosening some intellectual property rules on pharmaceutical products, a move that could expand global vaccine supply.” Officials said an announcement on the administration’s position could come over the next 48 hours as the World Trade Organization begins a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the matter. President Joe Biden has faced similar scrutiny over how and when he will distribute surplus vaccine doses abroad, with some advocates accusing him of not doing enough to help struggling countries like India vaccinate their populations.

The patent debate has pitted some of the administration’s health and development experts against those inside the White House who are wary of angering major drug manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna, whose products have allowed the country to begin returning to normal. According to people familiar with the dynamics, others inside the administration are concerned that the optics of Biden reversing a pledge he made as a candidate to “absolutely, positively” commit to sharing vaccine technology if elected president. Well, now, just before recording this interview, there was an announcement from the Biden administration on Wednesday. The Biden administration said, “The U.S. will support a proposal to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, joining an effort to increase global supply and access to lifesaving shots as the gap between rich and poor nations widen.”

“We are for the waiver at the WTO. We are for what the proponents of the waiver are trying to accomplish, which is better access, more manufacturing capability, more shots in arms,” said the U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, in an interview on Wednesday. I should add, more than a hundred members of the Democratic led U.S. House of Representatives had previously signed a letter to President Biden urging him to support the proposed waiver.

Now joining us to discuss both the situation in India and what can be done about making vaccinations more widely available and the significance of this announcement today on the U.S. position on the waiver, first of all, is Riccardo Petrella. He’s an Italian political scientist and economist, a long time fighter for human rights. In 2003, he set up the University of the Public Good. He’s an emeritus professor at Catholic University in Louvain in Belgium. He’s been organising support for the easing of patent restrictions on vaccines throughout Europe.

Also joining us is Vijay Prashad. He’s a historian, journalist, and commentator. He’s the Executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of LeftWord Books. His latest book is Washington Bullets: A History of CIA, Coups, and Assassinations. Thank you both for joining me.

Vijay Prashad

It’s a pleasure. It’s an honor to be with you, Riccardo.

Paul Jay

So before we get going on what’s happening as we speak, because this announcement by the Biden administration has just happened minutes before we’re talking. The WTO is meeting again tomorrow, and with this announcement, perhaps there will be some decision made on the waiver. We’re yet to see. By the time we publish this, there might be a decision. So if there is, we’ll add that in the text underneath the video, but all that being said, let’s start with the situation in India. Vijay, you’re in the United States, but you’re in close touch with colleagues and friends in India. So what’s the situation and why is it so out of control?

Vijay Prashad

Well, Paul there have been almost 21 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India. For the last two weeks, there have been over 300,000 cases a day. One day it clocked above 400,000. These are confirmed numbers. Most people say that this number is not credible, that the numbers are much greater than what is being reported. The situation is quite dire in certain parts of the country. For instance, in the capital city of Delhi, private and public hospitals have run out of beds, have run out of ventilators. Catastrophically, they’ve run out of the key drugs and they’ve run out of medical oxygen. Now, this should surprise or rather horrify people that in a country on the industrial scale of India does not have hospitals that produce their own medical oxygen. It’s not that difficult to produce medical grade oxygen. You have to take the nitrogen out of the air and so on, but they just simply don’t have the industrial capacity, and Delhi right now has seem to train loads of oxygen come into the city. That’s the level of the collapse. You asked why has there been this? There are two things that need to be said. First, India, like many of the other advanced capitalist countries, has totally destroyed whatever public medical system the country had built up in an earlier era.

India spends, the government spends 1.3 percent of GDP on health care, 1.3 percent of GDP. That’s scandalously low. India is one of the highest out-of-pocket expenditures of ordinary people having to spend out of pocket because there is no real medical insurance schemes, there is no social insurance scheme available. Government hospitals have been allowed to erode and so on. The industrial capacity, production capacity for hospital goods inside the country is not as robust as it should be. There was evidence that there was a pandemic in January, at least January of 2020. By the time the WHO declared the pandemic, Mr. Modi was making really outrageous comments, saying that India has ducked this pandemic. That India has done really well and so on. In fact, in January of this year, Mr. Modi, in a virtual presentation to the World Economic Forum at Davos, bragged and said that India has just taken care of this. There’s no more COVID-19 in India, and then he opened the door to two things, Paul.

This is really quite stunning. Seven million people gathered in Hardwar in the province of Uttarakhand, which is governed by the BJP for the Kumbh Mela. Seven million people came to take a dip in the river. This Mela takes place every 12 years. Some astrologist said that this year, it should happen in the 11th year, and the government went along with that. They could have very well said, no, wait till next year. There’s no Kumbh this year. The government could have done that. It’s a right-wing Hindu fundamentalist government. They could have exercised their credibility as a spokesperson for the Hindus or whatever and said, on public health grounds and on astrological grounds, you don’t need to listen to this astrologer. Let’s wait another year. No, they allowed roughly seven million people, including the former royal family of Nepal, who have all got COVID now. So this is the super spreader of super spreader events.

There were provincial elections, Paul, in four states and one union territory. The Bharatiya Janata Party of Mr. Modi put a lot of eggs in the basket of winning the provincial assembly in West Bengal, which has a population of 91 million people. That’s my state. I was born in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal. They held that election in eight phases, eight different days of voting. The reason they did that is they wanted Narendra Modi, the principal vote catcher, to hold as many mass rallies as possible. You see, if the election was compressed, he would only be able to do a few. They extended it over eight phases. There is ample evidence that this was a super spreader thing, and by the way, the BJP lost the election in West Bengal despite Modi’s recklessness. There is recklessness, there is incompetence, and there is the structural commitment to public austerity, not building up the health care system.

Just to put the last point in there about vaccines, India is known as the pharmacy of the world. That’s a phrase that gets thrown about. Sixty percent of vaccines are produced in India, world vaccines produced in India. India started to export vaccines, 60 million here, large numbers of vaccines for COVID-19 exported from India, but yet only one to two percent of Indians have been vaccinated and even that drive has slowed down. One of my colleagues wrote recently at the rate at which India is vaccinating, and by the way, subsequent to her saying this, the vaccine drivers stopped. At the rate at which India is vaccinating, India will not be sufficiently vaccinated before November 2022.

Now, your listeners may have forgotten what year we are in, Paul, because this whole period seems like we are living inside amber. We’re not in 2020 any longer. That was last year. We’re not in 2022 yet. Even though [inaudble] has said we will not vaccinate till November 2022, we are in 2021. This is May. It’s a long way to go to November. India, the pharmacy of the world, the country that produces more than 50 percent of world vaccines, will not vaccinate its population against COVID-19 until November 2022.

Paul Jay

And that’s if that date is to be believed. Now we’re going to do another interview with Vijay where we get more into the politics of India, why this is how unfolding, because part of this story is the role of the Modi government in being pandemic deniers at a criminal scale, but let’s talk about in what ways Vijay has the patent rights and so far the refusal of the WTO to waive these rights, how is this affected India, given they have such capacity to produce these vaccines and given the hundreds of thousands of people that are dying in India? Why doesn’t Modi government say, excuse the language, fuck you, pharmaceutical companies, we’re going to make them anyway, because I’m sure they know what’s needed to make them. It’s not like a secret recipe or something. They’re just respecting the rule of the pharmaceutical companies’ property rights.

Vijay Prashad

In fact, what you’re saying is very interesting, because in an earlier period, 20 years ago, India, Brazil, South Africa had just this conversation around AIDS drugs. At the time, Brazil declared a health care emergency. Riccardo will remember this. South Africa decided, we don’t care about patent rights. India, Brazil, south Africa created the block called IBSA, and India just went ahead, produced AIDS drugs, and sold it to these countries, and then the West had to deal with that. It was a fait accompli in a sense. Bill Clinton opposed that, and by the way, Bill Clinton opposes the removal of patent rights on the vaccines. This is the same man who destroyed the only pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, the Al-Shifa factory, with his illegal bombing of that factory calling it terror production.

I mean, these politicians have no credibility. They should not be listened to at all, but the issue in India is twofold, Paul. Two important points. One is that India is a very important exporter of drugs to the United States market. They export off patent products, but they also produce patent products for the U.S. market, which is one of the world’s best markets, because drug prices are so high in the United States. It’s a great place to sell to. Lots of money to be made in medicine. So Indian private sector drug companies don’t want to go against any WTO rules for fear of being sanctioned for market entry into the United States. So although they can go ahead and make the Chinese and Russian vaccine, and don’t forget, Chinese and Russian vaccines are made, very important, in the public sector. They are not made by private sector companies. These are made in the public sector.

India could go ahead, but the Serum Institute, for instance, a private sector company in India, doesn’t want to risk access to the U.S. markets, so they won’t break any WTO rules outright. Secondly, the United States, first under Trump, but Biden has not ruled this back. Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950, which has prevented Indian pharmaceutical production manufacturers to import the much needed raw materials to make the vaccines. That’s one of the reasons that vaccine production has basically slowed down in India. It’s not enough for the United States, for Katherine Tai to go to the WTO and say let’s negotiate on the patent. That’s fine, but why doesn’t Mr. Biden reverse Trump’s ruling exercising the Defense Production Act to export things like high quality plastic and so on, that is needed for vaccine production?

Paul Jay

Because these products that are needed are being imported from the United States and the Defense Production Act is preventing them from being exported.

Vijay Prashad

That’s exactly correct.

Paul Jay

Okay, Riccardo, this is not new this demand to waive these intellectual property rights in India and South Africa. I interviewed you several months ago about this and you were campaigning on this, as were others, for months before we did the interview. I mean, it took these images on television of a catastrophe in India of biblical proportions for Biden to move on this. So how significant is this announcement today? Is that at least an opening? Are you encouraged by what the trade representative said?

Riccardo Petrella

First of all, I would say that I entirely share Vijay’s analysis of India’s attitude and India’s Modi government policy. As a matter of fact, I would like to add that AstraZeneca is one of the greatest Western enterprise producing everything with the Serum Institute of India. The alliance between AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India is one of the main features of today’s pharmaceutical industry, vaccine industry in the world. One of the reasons is that I share with the view saying that the Modi government opposition is not so sincere and clean as the request from South Africa government for the waiver of intellectual property rights, because today the Indian government is more dictated and inspired by not the wealth and health of Indian people, but the strategic economic competitive purposes. One of the aims of being able to produce freely vaccines is also an instrument to fight competition against China in the Asia market. This is one of the strong elements for AstraZeneca to be in India as well. I’ll stop about India, but I think that you were entirely right in describing the present position.

Paul Jay

Let me just add one thing. I’m in Canada right now, and Canada got a big batch of AstraZeneca from India. When people in India aren’t getting vaccinated.

Riccardo Petrella

Exactly. So this is very important to the fact that India’s position eliminating the support of the waiver, a provisional waiver regarding the intellectual property rights. I have the impression that the very recent statement from the representatives of the United States administration at the WTO raises a lot of questions. First of all, we must admit that everybody was waiting or expecting a change from the Biden administration. I think that the mediatically speaking from a media point of view, today’s position of the Biden administration is a good change, because they can claim that now the Biden administration has heard the cry from the world’s people, from the poor people, that they understand that the crisis is worldwide, and that they must take extraordinary position. Biden can now say that the U.S. administration is taking again, the moral political leaderships in fighting against the pandemia or pandemic, because of this is a typical element of the U.S. policy. The leadership, the global leadership. By taking the position after they have expressed Wednesday afternoon, they can claim they say, hey, you see, what we are doing, because we are humanitarianist party. We try to be partners with the others in the solution of the world problems.  We don’t want to be outside, we want to be active participants, and this is why they are insisting that they are ready on negotiations on how to implement the waiver proposal. This is the key element. As a matter of fact, the change of Wednesday afternoon is cosmetic, to my mind, because, first of all, WTO TRIPS foresee the treaties, foresee as an exception, the compulsory licensing.

The waiver is not anything new. The waiver is emitted by the treaties in the so-called exceptional facilities. It means that in accepting the waiver the U.S. administration today accepted to apply the WTO treaties. Whereas they have been always opposed to the simple application of the WTO treaties. Accepting the waiver, they just legally applied the treaties. They don’t do anything new. They were exceptionally bad when they were against. Today, they are just according to the law.

Second, they are not do anything for press. They don’t show anything positive exceptional change. They are just applying WTO treaties trips rules. Second, they say anyhow, like the treaties, they say that first, the most important treaty is to protect intellectual property rights. Ms. Tai has declared that U.S. administration strongly believes in intellectual property rights protection. This is in her statement today. So they, again, don’t change anything, and they want in the sense to make sure to the pharmaceutical industry in U.S.A and Europe that they will protect intellectual property rights. They don’t say, let’s start immediately. They should start immediately the application of the waiver. They say, let’s start the negotiations. Start the negotiations, Mrs. Tai recognizes will take time, may take years. They will employ negotiations that can lead not to the waiver, but for instance to some practical, very empirical solutions in terms of distributing doses of the vaccine to the 92 most important countries, improving the logistics, improving the digitalisation of medical services, medical infrastructure, even in the low level, low income countries, which would be very convenient to the digital U.S. industry that keeps leadership in the world. I call your attention on the fact that at the time Mrs. Tai also has made the link between medical therapies, medical solutions, and digitalisation solution. The COVID-19 pandemic is becoming an important theater of the fight for digitalisation hegemony from the United States. Therefore, they say that they are going to participate in order to set up the rules of the digitalisation in all services, including the medical and health services. This is a fundamental aspect of the strategy against pandemic, the digitalisation, and they are ready to say let’s go in negotiation.

Now, what will it means in negotiation? They never, and I stop here. What that will mean the negotiation? That they will discuss about how to make more efficient and fast delivery of a production. To expand the production of vaccines. They deliver by airplane, sea, roads a much greater number of doses to African countries, to Latin American countries, to Asia, and they increase the financing of COVAX. This will be one of the most important aspects of the negotiations, how to provide COVAX, how to do a COVAX. This is my reaction, my personal reaction, and these substantial things will not change, as things are now.

Paul Jay

Okay, there’s a a report that Moderna and Pfizer are going to find ways to increase production and send more vaccines to India and other poor countries in order to avoid any lifting of property rights. What’s your take on all of this, Vijay?

Vijay Prashad

Well, good for them, because there is a public health emergency. I think all roads must be opened. If they can find a way to get vaccines to India and actually have them at a very reasonable price, that’s a key thing. There’s no point sending vaccines from the United States and charging U.S. prices. Already there’s a controversy in India because the Serum Institute was charging three, four times the price that it had earlier booked for each vaccine. So fine, let all kinds of things happen, oxygen flown in if necessary, etc. It’s a public health emergency. It’s a crisis that must be taken care of. That’s the immediate thing also. If they want to send it, let them send it. Now, what their motives are, that’s the second issue. You put their motive on the table. Their motive being let Moderna, Pfizer give the vaccines so we don’t have to lift the patent waiver. That may be the motive. I would say set the motive aside. If they’re going to dispense relief, let the relief come, firstly.

Secondly, I think there are long term things on the table. I don’t want to mix up the short term and the long term. In the short term, all relief must be provided. There’s some long term issues here. See, let’s take vaccine production firstly and production capacities of pharmaceutical drugs in general. It’s really interesting because if you look at the WTO, in the WTO, there is an official group called LDCs, less developed countries. These are a block of countries and you have an official standing. You can’t just claim to be an LDC.  You have to go through a certain stress test and you get placed on that list. For a long time, and in 2015 this was renewed, LDCs, this list of less developed countries, have the right to basically set aside patent protections and to produce generic drugs for their populations. This is now already in the books, and the 2015 LDC waiver, November 2015 waiver expires in 2033. We are well within the period when LDCs can provide vaccines, but let me tell you, here’s the problem. Only one LDC has the capacity to produce vaccines, and that’s very few, and that’s Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the only LDC that could produce vaccines.

We have a scandalous medical production system in the world that relies on largely North Atlantic states, European, and U.S. companies that basically have squeezed out pharmaceutical and drug production in other parts of the world, and of course, Bill Clinton didn’t help by bombing the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, but we need in the long term to return the issue, Paul, of having regional pharmaceutical production units. The South American countries need to come up with a plan of making South American drugs. It may not need be so continental. It could be in a different way, the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, etc. Every country doesn’t have to produce every drug, but most of the important vaccine, at least vaccine production capacity should be decentralised. The UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the UNDP, the IMF, all of them should come create a fund, not for COVAX. I’m not interested in COVAX. That’s a short term solution.

Let’s do that, but let’s produce a fund to create vaccine production units around the world. I’m in favor of creating immediately an intergovernmental panel on health threats. In the same way as we have an Intergovernmental panel on climate change, let’s create an intergovernmental panel on health threats. We have been told by scientists that this pandemic is not the last, that such pandemics are going to come frequently, and we don’t even know when this is going to end. So we need to set up using the major multilateral agencies who have money. The IMF needs to put standard drawing rights at play, essentially, to help fund pharmaceutical production lines in regions of the world. Again, it’s not enough for us to rely on Pfizer, AstraZeneca, etc, all publicly funded vaccines. It’s not just the production of the intellectual property that’s important, it’s the physical vaccine, and for that, you need to decentralise, and, in that sense, create a globalisation of production. So that countries like Bangladesh can just come to scale and produce vaccines. Countries like Ethiopia can just produce vaccines. You don’t have to wait for a plane load of refrigerated vaccines to come to you from Europe or elsewhere. You make your own vaccines.

Paul Jay

Well, this isn’t just the problem of the south. Canada is way behind United States and many other countries in the rollout of vaccination, because Canada doesn’t produce its own vaccines. We used to have a publicly owned laboratory that could do this and they privatized it. They sold it to a French pharmaceutical company, which is actually producing flu vaccine, but not COVID. They didn’t even try to order them to do COVID. It’s insane. So Canada actually, had plenty of money to buy vaccines and ordered enough vaccines, I think it was to do the population four times over, but couldn’t get them delivered, because they’re all coming from countries that are vaccinating their own populations first. So it’s not just the South, the insane irrationality of all this. Riccardo, let me ask you a question. The argument of the pharmaceutical companies is that without intellectual property protection, there’s no motivation for them to invest in research and all this. Is that true? Does that apply to this COVID vaccine?

Riccardo Petrella

Everybody knows this is just a joke. This is a pharmaceutical industry is a joke, because all data, all empirical observation shows that patents are among the strongest impeachment to share knowledge. One of the big issues in pandemia is the sharing knowledge. By patents, they have the monopoly over knowledge, and this is the greatest crime that our leaders have committed in the last 40 years. That they have given the monopoly of knowledge to private companies pushing profit purposes. Another second aspect is that all data about the present production and investment in COVID-19 vaccines, all the research expenditures have been financed by public budgets. AstraZeneca, we know, didn’t spend any single penny for research. Despite the fact that it is based on Oxford University, because they got all the research activities, payments, etc, financed by public money; and Pfizer the same; Moderna is the same. Even in the case of COVID vaccines, we observed that the states have engaged and committed themselves with the advance market commitments to buy and to pay the commercialisation, not only the production, but also the commercialisation of vaccines. The more so that the companies in the pharmaceutical industry has not spent anything of a significant amount in terms of research funding, production fundings, and marketing fundings.

This is a joke. Finally, we know that even if Pfizer last year spend just 15 percent, according to figures on R&D, on research and development, but they spent 40 percent of the investment resources into pharmaceutical publicity, advertising. We’ve known for many, many years that the pharmaceutical industries has always, on average spend double, triple in advertising than on R&D. So it’s a scandal that now all the vaccines that have been produced have been publicly financed, all vaccines, and then the public authorities in states have to buy them themselves. Now again, they come with the idea of strengthening the financial resources of COVAX, thanks to public money. What I would add to this point, which is very important, as I said, we are talking about public policy.

There’s no question of production. There’s no question of marketing. We are talking about a public policy. Health policy should be public, publicly financed. Research which should be publicly financed. Production should be by public enterprises. Distribution should be a public responsibilities. Assessment, analysis of the implementation of public should be a public assessment and not by just the accounting companies, etc.

I would like to add another argument vis a vis what was said before and it will be short. Why is the United States administration, if they were sincerely in favour of the public world health, why would they continue to maintain the debate on health policies within the framework of WTO, which is dealing with only trade? Why don’t they accept that public health policy, the public health of the world be examined and discussed and approved within the World Health Organization and all other United Nations organisations? Why they remain on the WTO approach. This is also a very significant aspect that the U.S. administration does not want to change the basic elements, the basic ingredients of health policy for the world.

Paul Jay

Right. Vijay, China has offered assistance to India. China, certainly, probably more than any country, has the capacity in terms of oxygen and masks and all the other things that are needed to deliver on an enormous scale. Is India accepting this, given that India is very closely allied with the American sphere of influence and so on, and in the American side in the American-China rivalry?

Vijay Prashad

Well, as soon as the images went out on the Internet, China’s President Xi Jinping made a public statement essentially saying, we’ll send things, at which point in this context, it’s impossible to say no. It literally is impossible. The problem is how to get things to India? That’s the problem, but things have been coming in, including from China. Now the issue is, of course, will this have a long term impact? Not enough relief can come in when you’re talking about a country of 1.4 billion, Paul. I mean, that’s the frank thing. You’re not able to airlift enough, but what you need is for those who are suffering in hospitals, where there is no ventilators, no beds, and so on. You can bring in goods. It’s incredible. People need to understand something. When the pandemic struck Hubei province, this was in January, February, and March of 2020, the Chinese government, the provincial government in Hubei and then the national government put enormous resources into fighting the infection. They built hospitals overnight to make sure that there was capacity. You remember this? There were photographs of these hospitals built from scratch. Within a week, there was a hospital up there, a modern functional hospital. The Communist Party doctors, doctors who are Communist Party members announced to doctors in Hubei province that, look, if you don’t want to stay and treat people in hot wards, you can leave. We’ll take your place. This is pretty incredible. That famous video of doctors standing in a room removing their masks when the hospital was closed down, when the infection was basically broken, they all had Communist Party emblems on. People may not have noticed that, but it’s quite something.

In India, we’re not seeing that. We’re not seeing the government say, you know what, there’s a problem in Delhi. So just outside Delhi, we’re going to commandeer public land or in the land in front of the old fort, we’re just going to commandeer this field, which is otherwise used for political rallies, build a hospital. Do you know what’s happening? Right in front of the president’s house, Rashtrapati Bhavan, all the way out along the road called Rajpath, the road of government up to Janpath, which is the People’s Road, the government is continuing to refurbish that area. Precious government resources are going to make a so-called vista in central Delhi, when they should immediately scrap that and shift to build a hospital on that land, for God’s sake.

Show that you have a commitment to the people. Just don’t see it. So you can bring in so many oxygen cylinders from China, so many of the medications needed, so many vaccines, that’s fine, but the government must show its commitment to the people, Paul. You can’t import a solution to this. Governments have to do a lot of things by themselves and they’re just not doing it. Mr. Modi, in fact, doesn’t seem to be seized of the gravity of the situation. He’s been now making statements, but he’s not seized of the gravity, the seriousness of purpose. His health minister, Mr. Harsh Vardhan, actually has a record in this. Yes, he’s an ideologue of the far-right, Paul, but he’s a doctor. About 25 years ago, he played a role in India’s polio vaccination program, a very credible and good role. I’ll give it to him. Harsh Vardhan is sitting in the seat as Health Minister with a record, even though he makes ridiculous statements now, he has a record. Why doesn’t that record somehow inflame him to act as a responsible health minister and say, you know what, we cannot be buying arms right now. We cannot be building the vista. Follow the Chinese, build a couple of hospitals and see what that will do, Paul. Yes, it will provide relief to people. It will also send a message to the Indian people the government cares. The government is taking this seriously. The government is going to find a solution, is going to manifest it’s resources.

The other day in Kerala, which is a state of 35 million people in the south west of India, where the government is a communist government, the Health Minister, K. K. Shailaja, who was profiled in The Guardian, they called her Corona Slayer, because she was actually able to hold down the infection rate in Kerala, a state in the Indian Union. She gave an interview just a few days ago saying that if we, meaning the left, were in power in Delhi, we would nationalise the whole health system. We’d just do it now. We just say, this is a major catastrophic problem. We’re going to just nationalise the whole health system, not bits and pieces of it,and what will we do? We’ll build a hospital, where there is a large monument.

I mean, for God’s sake, this is not a time in history to build monuments. This is the time to build hospitals, and imagine the symbolic impact in central Delhi, right there. The government says, we’re going to just build a large hospital with a thousand beds right now, and we’re going to just nip the crisis of lack of beds, lack of oxygen in the bud. Also, we’re going to immediately import medical oxygen making machines. If we can’t produce them fast enough, we’re just going to import them and give every hospital a medical oxygen manufacturing unit. Because, as I say, it’s not rocket science to make medical oxygen. It’s a very simple device. I have seen those devices. They are not that complicated. The government says, we’re just going to do this outright. We’re going to take from our budget.

India is the world’s largest importer of weapons. We’re just going to stop buying jets, and we’re going to not produce something, and we’re just going to take it to get medical resources. That will lift the confidence, the morale of the country. What I’ve learned from looking at Cuba in the middle of this crisis, China, in the middle of this crisis, and Vietnam, these countries, the leadership of the state works to lift the morale of the people. And then the people say, okay, let’s not go out without masks. Let’s wash our hands. Let’s keep physical distancing. You don’t do these things seriously if you don’t think your government is serious. And I think that’s something that the Indian government is not prepared to learn. It’s not going to learn this lesson.

Paul Jay

Well, it seems that whether it’s India, or the United States, or Canada, or you name it, the defense of property rights, whether it’s the pandemic or whether it’s the climate crisis, seems more important than whether humans survive or not. Anyway, thanks very much for joining us, Riccardo and Vijay.

Vijay Prashad


Riccardo Petrella

Thank you.

Paul Jay

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  • >> The U.S. announced its support for patent waivers, but it will be a long, drawn-out process that will make little difference to the catastrophe in India and other poor countries.

    Well, considering that the crisis in India is going on right now, and getting worse, you look at the realities of building and ramping up vaccine production and then distributing it, and then blame the US, saying it will be long and drawn out?

    What wouldn’t be long and drawn out when they need was yesterday? Is there just any little bit of criticism that maybe India with its huge technological industry and manpower might accept or be liable for?

    Please, does everything that emanates from the Left, which I consider myself in agreement with about 95% ( certainly hate the right-wing ) have to be expressed with total hatred and contempt for the US … and for not other reason. Just pack everything with hostility towards Biden and the USA?

    Do you feel you need to do that reach your readers/listeners and if so what does it say about them? Why not just the facts, and appropriate critiques were necessary. I mean the number of just out of the gate hostile criticisms of Biden, who is not doing that bad of a job and who might need encouragement and support to further a more Liberal Left agenda … but you just make enemies of the administration and I don’t think you do anything positive to motivate people to write the Biden administration and express support and push better policies, you end up just discouraging people.

    After all Biden and the Democrats are at this point new to a Progressive agenda and have to turn the country around – with the Republicans fighting every damn move?

    Do you even consider that, or is it just more important to sound angry and cynical of everything before you even consider the reality?

  • Anything with Biden depends clearly on both the Fine Print that comes later, and also that he, Trump, and Obama have set it that the rules can be re-written again and again, what was given can be taken away.

    Modi, like Bolsanaro in Brazil thought this would be an excellent way to cull the heard, so to BoJo in the UK. Kill off the elderly, the weak, the ill who absorb resources they want to spend on their donors in the MIC. These guys are not that far from “Lebensunwertes Leben”, and viewed Covid-19 as a godsend. Modi probably still does not grasp the long term threat to India from the large swath who don’t die, but live on with impaired health and reduced vitality.

    (Frankly, Trudeau in Canada, Ford in Ontario probably hold these beliefs, I know Trudeau holds dear his father’s white paper on how to ethnically cleanse the native people.)

    • >> I know Trudeau holds dear his father’s white paper on how to ethnically cleanse the native people.

      Can you explain that and give some kind of documentation on it. I’ve never heard that before? If the world is really this bad, shouldn’t it be more of a discussion in its own right instead of piling it on in criticism of the US who however slow or fast is trying to help with the global pandemic?

      Why does every defect in world politics always have to be written and expressed as some facet of evil in the US? Does that really help anything?