The novel coronavirus is resurging after its initial devastation around the world. Continued efforts and talks are going on about the successful procurement of Covid-19 vaccines quickly as an escape route. The race for getting the vaccine early among pioneering countries is getting more intense day by day with developing countries like Bangladesh becoming vulnerable in its effort to try and secure sufficient doses of vaccine. Effective diplomatic planning and its application are likely to reward Bangladesh in the quest for the vaccines.
Competition for power and prestige in world politics did not remain absent for a single day from the outset of the coronavirus. Border conflicts between China-India and Azerbaijan-Armenia remind us of the desperation of the states for asserting their power even in a crisis-ridden world.
Countries are similarly competing for access to coronavirus vaccines. But they fail to distinguish the unique nature of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict might be an issue impacting Azerbaijanis, Armenians and other geopolitical actors but the pandemic is a worldwide issue which has impacted every country and individual in the world.
One's loss means everyone's loss due to the globalised nature of this virus. Not only for humanitarian reasons but also their own sake, it is crucial for world powers to get this virus under control and eventually eradicate it. Unsurprisingly, cooperation among states was supposed to be high during the pandemic. Regrettably, the countries are instead trying to nationalise their vaccines while creating barriers for others as well.
Predatory attitudes of the developed nations towards developing nations amid the coronavirus pandemic highlight their irresponsibility. International institutions are also poorly coordinated in securing vaccine for all. The ambivalent character of the World Health Organization (WHO) casts doubt about global health governance.
The situation is further worsened when scientifically and economically advanced countries are competing for the vaccine, rather than cooperating. Under this grim backdrop in world politics, developing countries are facing acute dilemmas and uncertainty to procure the vaccine. Bangladesh has to formulate its foreign policy coherently under such a context to not lose out.
Bangladesh has already declared the Covid-19 vaccine a world public good. The government has permitted China and India to conduct phase-3 trials in Bangladesh. It has also contacted various potential sources of vaccines.
However, only contacting is not enough in getting the vaccine in such a competitive reality. Carefully organised diplomacy to acquire vaccines can be a good avenue for us. Bangladesh needs to frame the rationality of getting the vaccine early under a unified demand from the developing nations by asserting their vulnerability in this crisis. It may involve organising other developing nations at a regional and international level to show their solidarity on this attainment from developed countries.
Developed nations should be reminded of their humanitarian responsibility via foreign policy discourses. Notably, Bangladesh needs to be open to all since we are uncertain which vaccine would be proven more effective in creating resistance. Tilting towards any particular country may create problems for Bangladesh in future.
The government of Bangladesh is also missing a viable option in vaccine diplomacy. Western liberal countries have always expressed their tangible commitment to humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump's nationalistic approach to vaccine development has prevented developing countries access to vaccines from the US. But there is hope that the newly-elected President Joe Biden will ensure that the country's commitment to humanitarian issues and climate change.
So, Bangladesh needs to lay the groundwork for when the new president takes control of the White House in January so that it can secure vaccines and other support from the US. We should also give exposure through foreign policy to the UK and Germany at the national level since their advancement in vaccine development is admirable.
Despite world political leaders declaring Covid-19 vaccines as a public good, vaccine development has been headed by mostly private companies. But these companies are getting direct assistance from their respective governments. So, we can be sure that governments will influence the production and distribution of vaccines.
For this very reason, Bangladesh needs to engage in negotiation with public and private authorities abroad for acquiring the vaccine on time, when it is ready. It can also use its large population and demand for a large number of vaccines as a bargaining chip at the negotiation table.
It may sound ambitious but not unreasonable to locally develop vaccines in Bangladesh. Even Russia has expressed interest in opening vaccine production facilities in Bangladesh. This kind of initiative is likely to extend the availability and reduce the time for vaccination in Bangladesh.
Pushing diplomatically and facilitating domestically can compel foreign private companies to move for such a local arrangement.
However, we should not forget that vaccine procurement and distribution will put huge financial pressure on a country like Bangladesh. Special infrastructural development may become necessary to preserve vaccines. That is why Bangladeshi diplomats should look for potential financing and donors who are currently working for the cause of humanity. Utilising the benefits of international institutions can be a good opportunity for Bangladesh as well.
In conclusion, we can say that Bangladesh needs to direct its diplomatic channels to increase the possibility of getting Covid-19 vaccines from multiple sources.
The author of this article is a student of the University of Dhaka and can be reached out at [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.