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India has stepped up its global ambitions and foreign policy re-engagement with African countries in recent years. Its bilateral trade increased from $7.bn in 2001 to $63bn in 2017/18. India is now the third largest export destination and the fifth largest investor on the continent.
Workers at India’s biggest syringe manufacturer ramp up production in September 2020 in race to meet Covid-19 vaccine-driven demand. Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images
While it plays catch-up with China’s commanding presence in Africa, India has signed numerous new bilateral agreements. It has also strengthened its diplomatic presence and is actively furthering trade, infrastructure and private sector investments.
In our research under a multi-year project, we found that New Delhi promotes an alternative model of development. It showcases the successes of its Green Revolution and advances in information, communication and technology. But it also highlights its ability to develop “Triple A” technology – affordable, appropriate, adaptable.
India’s historical footprint in Africa differs from that of other powers. New Delhi offered support for African countries in their struggle against colonial rule. Indo-African partnership followed in the post-colonial period. This was cemented by solidarity with and support for the Non-Aligned Movement and the fight against racism.
Since the early 1990s, India has moved from idealism to pragmatism and the explicit pursuit of commercial interests. The change was driven by robust economic growth at home and the need to access raw materials and new markets.
India’s push for South-South cooperation relies on three broad elements. The first is a shared identity as part of the Third World. Second is expertise in cost-effective development technologies. Third is a recurrent articulation of the principles of mutual respect and solidarity.
Since 2018, the India-Africa partnership has been based on a set of principles. These have emphasised “local priorities”. They call for joint efforts to reform global institutions, combat climate change and fight global terrorism. They also highlight capacity building for agriculture, education, digital technology and cooperation on peacekeeping and maritime issues.
How and to what extent might Africa benefit from India’s growing interest? We identify three broad sets of health-related opportunities and benefits that may shape the future of India-Africa relations.
Almost 20% of India’s pharmaceutical exports, valued at $17bn, are to Africa. Southern and western regions of Africa are the largest importers of Indian medicines. These include antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that cost only a fraction of those produced by Western companies.
Since 2009, the Pan-African E-Network supported by India has offered tele-medicine services. This also connects Indian hospitals and educational centres with their counterparts in Africa. With its state-of-the-art medical facilities, which offer services at competitive costs, India has also emerged as an attractive destination for “medical tourism”.
But Africa’s success in containing pandemics such as Ebola offers lessons to India, too. An illustrative example is Senegal, which has adapted its experiences from the 2014 Ebola outbreak to fight Covid19. Numerous additional lessons on disease control from African countries can also be scaled up to improve India’s health sector.
Future collaboration on health
India appears well-poised to share its digital capabilities for improved and affordable access to universal healthcare. New Delhi has revamped its tele-medicine and online video consultation infrastructure on the continent. This offers a cost effective and safe option for treating contagious diseases.
In the near future, India’s partners may benefit from its online and mobile applications to improve accessibility and affordability of healthcare. Online platforms can be used to access information on blood banks, public hospitals, and organ donation. Mobile applications can help track the vaccine status of children and disease awareness.
But there are also some challenges that must be resolved. Combating the menace of counterfeit medicines on the African continent is one. In addition to existing measures to curb criminal activity, mobile apps can verify medicines to tackle the problem.
A major challenge is improving access to generic medicines through negotiated intellectual property rights waivers. At the World Trade Organisation, India and South Africa have taken a moral stance against “vaccine nationalism”. Their joint proposal in October 2020 for a temporary waiver on drugs and Covid-19 vaccines was nevertheless rejected by the organisation.
The Conversation Africa The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. Its aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues, and allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation. Go to: https://theconversation.com/africa
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