India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, helmed ably by the national leadership, was also supported by a range of stakeholders, making it a true Jan Andolan”: Dr. Ashok Babu, Joint Secretary, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare
February 2, 2023, New Delhi: “The Government of India’s efforts toward ‘Antyodaya’ – empowering the last-mile person – as envisioned by Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi, is aligned with the efforts of many individuals and organizations when it comes to public health. This conclave celebrating India’s successful COVID-19 journey is aptly titled, Power of the Collective. We are indeed a country that believes in Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas. It has always been our objective to reach every citizen – the most vulnerable from the remotest corners of the country – and secure their health and well-being. Being a part of this Conclave reaffirms my faith in those who have tirelessly worked to mitigate COVID-19 and am sure will continue to support us even beyond the pandemic,” said Dr Ashok Babu, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Dr. Ashok Babu made this observation at a National Conclave on January 31, 2023, which showcased innovative interventions of the MoHFW and state health departments which were deployed with support from partner organizations including USAID to increase the COVID-19 vaccination coverage in India. The Conclave also saw the attendance of Dr. Manohar Agnani, Former Additional Secretary, MoHFW; Ms. Patricia A. Lacina, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy; Dr Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Dr Veena Dhawan, Additional Commissioner (immunization), MoHFW; Ms. Sangita Patel, Director, Health Office, USAID; Dr Sanjay Kapur, Managing Director, John Snow India, among other dignitaries. It was held at the Imperial Hotel, Delhi, and saw participation from 33 state health departments. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and John Snow India, supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) co-hosted the event. The conclave was preceded by a closed-door meeting on January 30, 2023 which brought together stakeholders to share reflections about the COVID-19 vaccination programme and its implications to further strengthen health systems.
“Our whole-of-society approach is well-reflected in many of the initiatives which were showcased today at the conclave. Vulnerable groups, be it the transgender community or the elderly, need our support. I congratulate the state immunization officers and COVID-19 warriors who have persevered and ensured vaccines reach the last mile,” said Dr. Babu. The conclave featured a photo exhibition showcasing the many innovative, disruptive ways in which India ensured vaccination at the last mile and a felicitation ceremony to recognize immunization officials from states, COVID-19 warriors at the grassroots supporting the vaccination efforts and healthcare workers. A compendium capturing best practices from COVID-19 vaccination was also launched by Dr. Babu and other dignitaries.
“Thanks to workers such as yourselves, India’s resounding success in administering over 2.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccination doses is an example of what strong political will, innovation, commitment, partnerships, and technological expertise can achieve, especially in moments of crisis. It is rewarding to see India’s achievements and contributions receive global acknowledgment for bringing relief to the world by supplying essential drugs, commodities, and vaccines to over 150 countries during the pandemic. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the United States has supported the Government of India’s battle against the pandemic. We have done so by providing care for those that were affected by COVID-19, disseminating essential public health messaging, addressing stigma, strengthening COVID-19 testing, and mobilizing innovative financing solutions to bolster emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Thus, we are gathered here today, to not only celebrate the amazing effort that was put forth, but to ensure that the lessons we learned from this pandemic are used to prevent and combat the next one.” said Patricia A. Lacina, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy.
“We are proud to have supported the MoHFW in its endeavors to increase vaccine coverage for the vulnerable in India. As implementation partner of USAID, we have been deeply committed to and have had the privilege of engaging grassroots organizations to ensure vaccines reach the last mile. We are also heartened to see the participation of so many stakeholders – from the government and other eminent non-government representatives – at this National Conclave. It only shows what India has achieved, and can achieve in future, through a concerted whole-of-society approach,” said Dr Sanjay Kapur, Managing Director, John Snow India.
The panels discussed a range of topics including ‘Reflection on India’s COVID-19 response and learnings to transform India into a global leader in healthcare to achieve India@2047 vision’; ‘Strengthening India’s Health System through partnership and investment’; India’s community-driven approach to addressing a public health crisis’; and ‘Ushering in a multi-disciplinary approach to ensure high vaccine uptake and health equity’. The meetings and panel discussions at the conclave saw participation from a range of representatives – from the Health Ministry and international organizations like USAID, WHO, John Snow India, UNICEF, GAVI ,World Bank and UNDP among others.
In January, India crossed a significant milestone: it finished two years since the initiation of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program – the largest in the world – which was launched by the Prime Minister on January 16, 2021. During this time, the country navigated multiple challenges and waves of COVID-19 to administer more than 220 crore doses resulting in upwards of 90% of India’s adult population being completely vaccinated. The country’s widespread vaccination programme has resulted in several critical learnings and best practices across a spectrum of themes. The documentation and dissemination of such learnings have the potential to positively inform India’s health systems strengthening processes, essential for the country to be prepared for future emergencies. The role of partner organizations like USAID, too, is seen as essential in India’s journey till now.
One of the most recent USAID initiatives is the MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Project. USAID has mandated John Snow India as a country implementation partner for India to provide technical assistance to national and state governments to support COVID-19 Vaccination in India. The project, through partnerships with local NGOs, has helped to increase the demand, distribution, and uptake of COVID-19 vaccination, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized populations across 18 states and union territories.