Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh moderates panel on Israel-India cooperation for COVID-19
Top Israeli and Indian Government representatives, advocacy organizations, and Indian-American physicians held a webinar Aug. 26, 2020, on the joint initiative undertaken by Tel Aviv and New Delhi to develop a rapid test for COVID-19. More than 150 people tuned in to hear and participate in the discussion, according to a press release from organizers.
Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman, Parikh Worldwide Media, moderated a panel discussion lasting about an hour, entitled, ‘Can 30 Seconds Save the World? Israeli-Indian Cooperation to develop a rapid test for COVID-19’.
The program was cosponsored by the Indian and Israeli Consulates in New York, American Jewish Committee, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Parikh Worldwide Media, ITV Gold and the Hindu-Jewish Coalition.
New York based Consuls General Israel Nitzan (Israel) and Randhir Jaiswal (India) gave opening remarks as the co-hosts of the program along with Rabbi David Levy of AJC New Jersey. Consul General Nitzan said the friendship between the three countries, U.S., India, and Israel, was based on shared values of freedom and democracy. The relations between India and Israel stretch way back in history and beyond just national or strategic interests he said. Indian-Americans and American Jewish community share values of excellence and education. The communities and the consulates, he said, “form a solid basis for the alliance” among the three countries, Ambassador Nitzan emphasized. “Today’s discussion is what Israelis all about and what India is all about,” he added.
Indian Consul General Jaiswal spoke of four key areas where India and Israel had got together – 1. Personal Protection Equipment kits (which India supplied to Israel early on), and ventilators (that Israel supplied to Tamil Nadu initially: 2. Diagnostic capacity coming out of Israel which could lead to this 30-second rapid test; 3.Pooling of resources and minds on how to develop tools to be able to predict a pandemic using artificial intelligence etc.; and, 4. Vaccine development of which there were several efforts ongoing around the world. “All in all, it is a very happy story, very innovative story,” Ambassador Jaiswal said. And this seminar is part of that, he indicated.
Dr. Parikh thanked his close friend and well-known Indian-American Jewish activist Nissim B. Reuben, assistant director of AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute, for inviting him and his colleagues, President of AAPI, Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, and Director (AAPI Mid-Atlantic Region), Dr. Jagdish Gupta, to participate.
Reuben and Dr. Parikh have roots in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat Reuben’s late father Benjamin S. Reuben was the President of the Jewish Community of Gujarat State. Both the Parikh and Reuben families are personally known to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who fondly calls Reuben India’s Rashtradoot – Goodwill Ambassador to the Jewish World, Dr. Parikh noted during the discussion which is available on YouTube.
Since 2002, Reuben has played an important role at AJC building robust Jewish and Indian diaspora relations jointly advocating for close ties between the U.S., India and Israel in the strategic, economic, technology and cultural areas. Among activities he organized were Hannukah receptions in his Indian-Jewish tradition at the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC and Consulates in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Houston.
Dr. Parikh gave the audience of more than 150 guests which included Panama’s Health Minister, a brief history of India-Israel relations from when they began in 1950 till today and the role of the Indian-American community in strengthening them.
It was only in 1991 that India upgraded to full relations with Israel. Since the 1960s when Indian professionals began to immigrate in greater numbers to the U.S. and till today, the Indian-American community has been a passionate advocate of close ties between India and Israel, India and the United States, and U.S.-Israel relations, Dr. Parikh noted.
Israel’s Ambassador to India Ron Malka emphasized the relations of “mutual trust and mutual respect” that have existed between Tel Aviv and New Delhi over the years. Which was why the two countries were cooperating on the initiative to develop the 30-second test for COVID-19, he indicated. Such a test, “can be a game changer,” he said, expanding on the technicalities of the test, which began in Israel and then moved to India in order to have a larger sample to work with. It took just 9 days to procure 20,000 samples in India, he noted. The samples are now being analyzed and the hope is that the rapid test that emerges can be done locally, at low cost and deliver results within seconds. The initiative is named ‘Open Skies.’
“This operation was very, very successful even though very ambitious,” Ambassador Malka said, and yet another example of the commitment on both sides to meet the objectives. He also spoke of other assistance that Israel and India have given each other through the coronavirus epidemic.
The friendship is based on ‘strong values’ and this pandemic has brought the countries closer together, Malka said, and leaders are looking for more collaborations to meet other challenges.
Dr. Parikh, as Secretary General of the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, thanked participants and recalled how he and other Indian-American leaders from around the U.S., used to request every visiting Indian Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister, or others, to to upgrade relations with Israel, which they believed would tremendously benefit India in areas of health and agriculture. They also highlighted the warm ties between the Jewish and Indian communities in the U.S. Through those years, the one man India Caucus was late Jewish Congressman Steve Solarz who used to join Dr. Parikh, Dr. Bharat Barai and other Indian-American leaders for meetings with visiting Indian leaders advocating upgradation of India’s relations with Israel. Rep. Steve Solarz in partnership with Indian-American leaders had arranged the first meeting between then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Shimon Peres on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 1988, the press release said.
Agriculture, water, defense and health cooperation have become the four pillars of the close ties between India and Israel, Dr. Parikh noted, adding that Gujarat was among the first state governments to have sent agricultural delegations to Israel in the 1970s to learn from Israel’s ability to make its deserts bloom through water management and conservation techniques.
As Secretary-General of the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO) representing 1.2 million Indian Diaspora physicians worldwide, and on behalf of the Indian-American medical community, Dr. Parikh offered Ambassador Malka assistance in the process of enabling a similar regular exchange of experts in the health sector between India and Israel. He commended both Prime Minister Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu, their scientific advisors and Ambassadors Ron Malka and Sanjeev Singla (India’s Ambassador to Israel) for their role in spearheading the robust India-Israel ties pointing to the large Israeli delegation setting up a two weeks COVID testing camp in Delhi under Ambassador Malka’s leadership as an example.
Following the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, Dr. Parikh recalled how a 300-member team of health care workers from Israel, camped in the Kutch area, conducting surgeries and other procedures and tasks required.
Both GAPIO and AAPI have approached the U.S. government on stepping up cooperation among the three democracies, especially on disaster management, Dr. Parikh said. Dr. Jonnalagadda and Dr. Parikh emphasized they would continue this effort. Dr. Jonnalagadda also responded positively to Dr. Parikh’s query regarding visits of AAPI delegations to Israel being resumed for dialogues on health cooperation. “Health cooperation is critical not just for India and Israel but for the world,” Dr. Jonnalagadda said, noting that ‘crisis cooperation’ like that over COVID testing, plays a critical role in this important partnership.
Among the recommendations put forward by Dr. Parikh to Ambassador Ron Malka was the need to set up ‘Centers of health Cooperation’ across India, on the lines of the 29 Centers of Excellence that Tel Aviv had helped set up for farmers in India. Since 60 percent of the Indian economy is still dependent on agriculture, Dr. Parikh pointed to the boost those gave to the economy. “With assistance from the Indian and Jewish diaspora communities, we would like Israel to be able to set up similar Centers of Health Cooperation across India,” Dr. Parikh said, and offered the full support of GAPIO and AAPI as needed, and even planning to bring the U.S. Agency for International Development into the effort.
In his remarks, Ambassador Dr. Ron Malka gave detailed overview of India-Israel relations. Besides the recent massive COVID-19 mission, he pointed to the recent water management agreement Israel has signed with Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. He also mentioned the cooperation with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Dr. Jagdish Gupta thanked Israel for the assistance it has given to AIIMS, his alma mater, which began in 2007, during the ‘AIIMSonian’ celebrations, when the Trauma Center was approved, and finally completed in 2011. He also noted the cooperation on “Point of Care” antigen based testing. And with a pandemic ongoing, Dr. Gupta hoped for more cooperation with Israel to benefit the world, such as the current rapid test development. The AIIMS hosted the large mission of Israeli COVID-19 experts on its premises earlier this month led by Ambassador Malka, and he looked forward to more cooperation with both government institutions such as AIIMS as well as leading private sector hospitals such as Apollo, Medanta, Zydus etc. He said that as President of the AIIMS alumni in the US, he and his colleagues will offer whole hearted supported to future Israel-India medical cooperation initiatives.
Dr. Jonnalagadda mentioned that AAPI had taken a mission to Israel and Jordan in 2019 and hoped to work with Reuben to ensure that AAPI can take a mission annually to Israel in cooperation with AJC.
Ambassador Malka said Israel was keen to work with India on areas that would greatly benefit that country such as telemedicine, remote centers of excellences. Responding to questions, he said COVID -19 had affected everyone in Israel, but the attempt was to make sure that the least well off, also got the services and help they required.
On how the coronavirus had affected India, Dr. Parikh said despite the population density and poverty, India had managed the coronavirus epidemic well, and credited the government of Prime Minister Modi for that. Dr. Gupta pointed to the largest and densest settlement of Dharavi in Mumbai, where cases of COVID-19, were “very, very low,” as an example of how India had handled the crisis.
Andrew Gross, director of the New-Jersey-Israel Commission from the New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s office, gave closing remarks offering the Governor’s robust support to partnership initiatives between New Jersey, Israel and India in all areas especially in the health, biomedical and biotech sectors, which he said New Jersey was a center of.