- GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Towards a ‘healthy’ India-Africa partnership
Context: The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on India has been especially grim. Given the interconnectedness of world systems, it is crucial to examine how partnerships can be built around the process of recovery, especially with countries in Africa.
Pandemic in Africa
- Lower cases due to young demography: While Africa was one of the last regions to be hit by the virus, and with deaths over 35,000, it has reported lower case numbers than Asia and even Europe in terms of containing the spread, likely due to its young demography.
- Multi-stakeholder response controlled spread: Cooperation among African leaders, the African Union, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has led to an increase in testing capacity, resource mobilisation, and measures to contain the spread of the virus. In addition to state efforts, civil society organisations and young activists across African countries have been crucial to mobilise resources, spread awareness, and find solutions.
Economic Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Africa
- Reduced Trade: Africa has been deeply affected by reduced intra-African trade numbers, with dwindling demand from the EU, US, China, and other markets causing a supply-and-demand shock.
- Could erode progress made on poverty front: Sub Saharan Africa’s real per capita GDP could shrink by -5.4 per cent this year, which could effectively roll back a decade of progress with 49 million Africans likely to be pushed into poverty.
- Unemployment: It is estimated that 30 million jobs will probably disappear in the wake of economic disruption caused by the Pandemic
- Longer time to recovery: Larger economies like Nigeria, South Africa and Angola are not expected to see real GDP growth return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2023 and 2024, respectively.
- Exposed weak welfare state: The pandemic has also laid bare the relatively weak state of social welfare schemes and health infrastructure in the region.
How India can help Africa at this crucial juncture?
- Build on the momentum
- Already, the India-Africa health cooperation is multidimensional, comprehensive, and involves national, state, and subnational actors working toward augmenting African institutional and individual capacities.
- It includes exporting low-cost generics, building health infrastructure, providing aid, technical assistance, and hosting medical tourists.
- In the recent past, India-Africa relationship has picked up momentum— with regular high-level visits, increasing diplomatic footprint, diversified engagement across sectors, and a vibrant diaspora — which it can build upon during this unprecedented crisis.
- Partner in supplying low-cost Covid-19 vaccines to the region
- As the “pharmacy of the world,” while India has already dispatched medicines including hydroxychloroquine and other drugs to over 25 African countries, it could also become a critical partner in supplying low-cost Covid-19 vaccines to the region
- While the Serum Institute of India (SII) has stated that it will begin sending supplies to the WHO-backed COVAX initiative, the South African health ministry has confirmed that it has entered an agreement with SII and would get 1.5 million doses of vaccine in the next two months.
- Comprehensive strengthening of Africa’s health systems.
- Indian pharmaceutical companies can also play a role in boosting African pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity
- The Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa, a business idea developed in 2007, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which became operational on January 1, 2021, can boost pharmaceutical manufacturing in Africa.
- Private actors in India’s health sector already have a significant presence in Africa. The recent MoU between the Health Federation of India (NATHEALTH) and the Africa Health Federation (AHF) aimed at building healthcare ecosystems, increasing investments, and creating cross-country partnerships recognises the sheer business potential of a robust partnership in health.
- Boosting e-initiatives
- The Indian government could also play the role of a facilitator and create working groups with medical professionals to host video or teleconferences with counterparts from African countries.
- The e-ArogyaBharti (Tele-medicine) Project, part of the e-VBAB launched in October 2019, seems to be a step in that direction
- The e-VBAB project which also includes e-VidyaBharti (Tele-education), is entirely funded by the Indian government. It builds on the Pan-Africa e-network Project and promises access to premier Indian education institutions and to medical experts in the country.
- Multilateral Efforts
- Indian actors can also take the lead in initiating and pushing for more multilateral efforts by stakeholders like the WHO or the UN to do more for African recovery.
While it can be argued that the Covid-19 crisis has had serious implications for India and the country has huge domestic obligations to deal with, partnering with Africa at this critical juncture in our shared reality will add immense value to the rich historicity of India-Africa solidarity.
Connecting the dots:
- India’s neighbourhood Policy