“India’s response to the pandemic has been driven by the wisdom and evidence of science”

New Delhi, 24 December 2020: Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Health & Family Welfare has said “Science and Technology breaks all barriers…. We also believe it validates the Indian philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the world is one family. This expression reflects our ancient, inclusive traditions”. He was addressing Science &Technology  ministers from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and diplomats from Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and other countries at the “Overseas Science & Technology Ministers’ and Diplomats’ conclave” at the India International Science Festival 2020 being held virtually. He said, “Wehave learnt to harness the soft prowess of science and technology as an important pillar of our cooperation in the knowledge economy of the 21st century”.

He stated “The current COVID19 pandemic has reinforced our belief in innovation and R&D to accelerate products and services that not only help in disease management, but also enhance our level of preparedness for future outbreaks”. Dr. Harsh Vardhan highlighted “India’s response to the pandemic has been driven by the wisdom and evidence of science”. He elaborated on Indian scientists’ accomplishments in the fight against COVID-19. He pointed out “Today, the focus has shifted to vaccine production and rapid testing”.“Many vaccines are in the advanced stage of development and India is slated to become one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines in the world,” he added.

He expressed his satisfaction “The immunoassay laboratory of Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) has been recognized by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as one of the six global networks of laboratories for centralized assessment of COVID- 19 Vaccines”.

The Minister drew attention of the conclave, saying “There are many other challenges which the world is readying to face in the post COVID-19 era such as climate change, energy and water security, anti-microbial resistance etc, to name a few”. “To face these challenges, we must rethink on how research is funded, we need to re-visualize which research is being funded and re-imagine newer ways of cooperation on this front”, he emphasised.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that the pandemic has accelerated digitization and we need to utilize Artificial Intelligence and Big Data with responsibility and accessibility. “India has taken leadership in digitization and our contact tracing and tracking of COVID-19 cases has shown that India can harness digital solutions for benefit of the population” he pointed out.

The Minister informed that India’s Ministries of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences are actively cooperating with 44 countries across the globe, and said, “The present cooperation in research and development is driven by a sense of mutual trust and purpose in achieving together ‘high quality’ and ‘high impact’ partnerships. This cooperation extends to capacity building in the academic research arena as well”. He also pointed out that India has always believed in sharing knowledge, technology and know-how with countries facing similar developmental challenges. “The Department of Science and Technology is facilitating the Indian scientific community to connect with researchers from other countries like Australia, ASEAN countries, Brazil, Japan, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, United States and Uzbekistan to find solutions against COVID-19 through joint research projects”, he added.

He emphasised that for our neighbourhood countries including Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, a unique model of need-based entity-to-entity cooperation has been judiciously adopted. “This has been done with the defining perspective to jointly address national needs of these countries through S&T enabled cooperation”, he said.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan concluded stating, “For all its disruption, COVID-19 has, out of necessity, accelerated innovation and experimentation in ways that have benefited the common man. Building on that energy and momentum in a thoughtful but committed way is critical in a rapidly changing development paradigm and shall bring us to the next normal”. He stressed “We must strengthen the use of science in policy, build public trust in science, ensure ‘open science’, universal access to solutions, and expedite action in response to scientific findings and innovation”.

While Minister from Uzbekistan appreciated India’s stellar efforts in combating COVID-19 and sought collaboration with India in vaccine development, Ministers from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Philippines and Cambodia evinced keenness in India’s assistance in development of higher education institutes in their countries, cooperation in S & T and scholarships for their students for higher studies in India. Dr. Harsh Vardhan assured them of making sincere efforts to their proposals.

Dr. Abas Basir, Minister of Higher Education, Govt of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; Dr. Chhem Kieth Rethy, Minister Delegate attached to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State, Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology & Innovation, Royal Government of Cambodia; Dr. Myo Thein Gyi, Union Minister of Education, Myanmar; Prof. Fortunato T. De La Peňa, Secretary (Minister) of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Technology, Philippines; Dr. Seetha Arrambepola, Minister of Skill Development, Vocational Education, Research Innovation of Sri Lanka; Mr. lbrokhim Yu. Abdurakhmonov, Minister of Innovative Development, Uzbekistan; Diplomats from Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and other countries; Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST; Dr.Sanjeev Kumar Varshney, Head,  International Cooperation Division, DST; Other Secretaries to the Government of India; distinguished scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs attended the conclave.