Cooperation in traditional medicines, health care a win-win for Africa and India
by Ashok B Sharma on 06 Nov 2015 4 Comments
African leaders have made it abundantly clear that for the development of the continent they are open to cooperation with any country that would result in a win-win situation for both. Development of the continent can be possible if there is greater flow of investment, setting up of industries that would lead to creation of more jobs and skill development, value addition to products for consumption and exports, development of infrastructure, cooperation in energy particularly in renewable energy, education and human resources development, access to markets for trade, development of blue or ocean economy, modernization of agriculture, food security and access to affordable and quality healthcare and services.


It is justifiable for a natural resource-rich continent that has been exploited by colonial powers over centuries, thereafter troubled by inter and intra-state conflicts and now by terrorism, to look for partners who can ensure a win-win situation in the process. One significant area where India’s engagement with the continent has been a success story is in the field of affordable and quality healthcare and services. The Agenda 2063 adopted by the African Union clearly lays down “every citizen will have full access to affordable and quality healthcare.” The crux of 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 3 adopted by the UNGA and the Africa Agenda 2063 is, therefore, the same – to ensure good health and wellness for all citizens. At home, India has similar ongoing programmes to ensure public health.


India is the third largest supplier of pharmaceutical formulations and a major supplier of cheap and affordable generic drugs to Africa that has helped to combat fatal diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis. During the outbreak of the devastating Ebola pandemic, New Delhi offered financial assistance that led to early detection of emerging dangerous pathogens like Ebola and Marburg viruses, enabling a more effective response.


Two Indian scientists rank among others in developing a vaccine to counter the Ebola pandemic. While the recent Ebola pandemic surpassed all other outbreaks in terms of cases, deaths and geographic spread across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Lone, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) continue to plague the diverse African continent. According to the World Health Organisation, fatalities on account of NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, asthma, cancer are likely to increase by 27% over the next 10 years. Most NCDs are due to lifestyle problems.


One major challenge before India is to resolve Africa’s problem of public health and ensuring food and nutritional security. New Delhi’s gift of Pan-African e-Network Project (PAENP) for tele-medicine and education covering 48 countries is unique in this respect. Through PAENP medical practitioners at the patient-end locations in Africa can consult on-line with Indian medical specialists in various disciplines and specialties selected by the African Union for its member states. This network connects 53 remote hospitals, 53 learning centres, five regional universities and five regional hospitals throughout Africa.


India has empaneled 12 super specialty hospitals and seven leading universities to provide expert domain knowledge in tele-medicine and tele-education. This project also helps African students to study medicine at seven universities in India. Continuing Medical Education (CME) classes are also conducted. India has installed diagnostic and pathology equipment in many African hospitals. Tele-medicine centres have been set up in four Regional Super Specialty Hospitals of Africa in Nigeria, Congo, Mauritius and Egypt.


Indian pharma companies have invested in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. Some of the major Indian pharmaceutical joint ventures or subsidiaries for manufacturing or trading in Africa are Cipla, Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, IPCA Laboratories, Parentearl Drugs, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Aubindo Pharma, JB Chemicals, Cadila Healthcare, Lupin and Intas Pharmaceuticals. Cipla has taken initiative in Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho and Zambia.


Indian hospitals like the Apollo group are offering consultancy services to hospitals in Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries. Appasamy Associates of India in joint venture with Vision Care Centre of Zambia launched Vision Care Appasamy Eye Hospital in Lusaka. The Indian Embassy hosted free eye care camp in Addis Ababa in December, last year. Many patients from Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Mauritius, Egypt and South Africa come to India as medical tourists for treatment in specialty hospitals and receive treatment from traditional systems of medicines.


India and Africa cooperate in the healthcare sector on win-win basis. It is time to strengthen it and extend the PAENP and healthcare system to include all African countries. PAENP should be extended to cover food and nutritional security and agriculture, particularly medicinal herbs cultivation and conservation. Africa is diverse with flora and fauna many of which have unique medicinal value. With a view to prevent bio-piracy and misappropriation of traditional knowledge, India has set up a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). Africa should do the same and allow bio-prospecting on the basis of benefit sharing with local communities.


India has enacted the Biological Diversity Act 2002 and has set up the National Biodiversity Authority and state biodiversity boards to protect traditional knowledge and its ownership by local communities. India has launched Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) that works on the principle of open access to knowledge, expertise and resources in drug discovery involving a network of students, scientists from academia, industry and clinicians worldwide.


OSDD coupled with Contract Research and Manufacturing Services are the mechanism for making new drugs cheaper and affordable. New Drugs Price Control Order 2013 and the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority in India make many life-saving drugs cheap and affordable. Besides, India uses flexibility under TRIPS regime to produce generic drugs at low costs. Thus, India can be Africa’s befitting partner in reducing its disease burden.


The use of traditional system of medicines would not only be cost effective but also preventive. India should assist Africa in its Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) for food security and cultivation of nutritional crops including medicinal herbs. Africa has ample scope for exporting and consuming organic produces. The African Union in its 2015 Summit symbolically consigned the use of hand-held hoes to the museum, so as to replace them with tillers and other modern technology that can improve productivity.


Intensification of pulses cultivation in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and Ethiopia can help India in meeting its shortage in this commodity and help Africa earn foreign exchange. Similar can be the case of onion cultivation in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cape Verdes, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Burundi. Morocco, Tanzania, Togo, Senegal, Algeria, South Africa have reserves of phosphate rocks, while Congo Brazzaville and Ethiopia have potash reserves. Indian farmers needs both phosphate and potash fertilizers.


The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the recent Third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi said, “we will also collaborate to develop Indian and African treasures of traditional knowledge and medicines.” Going by this assurance, one hopes that India-Africa cooperation in health sector would acquire a new dimension in making use of traditional systems of medicines that can not only be a preventive remedy but also a cost effective one. Use of traditional medicines can help in nutritional security. India’s traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Siddha can also gain from use of herbs found in Africa.   

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