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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on on global health systems as the world grapples with it. Apart from the human impact, there is also significant business, commercial and economic impact. As viruses know no borders, the consequences continue to spread. Amid the pandemic, the African Union (AU) has actively developed a joint continental strategy to deal with it. Further, it also complemented Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the Member States’ efforts by providing a health platform. The pandemic is affecting African countries differently, given varied strengths and vulnerabilities.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDCP) boost the region’s capacities by building testing capabilities, promoting knowledge-based pandemic management and supporting governments’ efforts to mobilise resources for a sustained health response.
While the immediate health impact is still evolving, the indirect consequences beyond health, already bring a heavy toll. These include food insecurity, lack of medical supplies, loss of income and livelihood, difficulties in applying sanitary and physical distancing measures, a looming debt crisis, as well as related political and security risks.
Indians in Africa account for 12.37% of the total diaspora in the world. Members of the Indian diaspora are spread over several Francophone, Lusophone, Anglophone, and Arabophone countries of Africa, residing in 47 countries inhabiting all linguistic, cultural, or geographical regions of the continent. Having a sizeable Indian diaspora, African countries have been special beneficiaries of India’s medical diplomacy, especially Mauritius, where 68% of the total population is Indian.
The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General called for world leaders to act together during this pandemic. India’s international cooperation has been termed ‘medical diplomacy’ by many eminent political commentators. This is how India has answered the need for an urgent and coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
India’s initial steps to send/export Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to affected countries worldwide are based on India’s medical diplomacy history. India has advocated the availability of medicines worldwide through international cooperation and development partnerships in the wake of this pandemic. To safeguard equitable and fair access to essential supplies of drugs and vaccines to fight COVID-19, India has notably signed a UN resolution.
While referring to the ancient Sanskrit dictum, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, on May 12th, 2020, stated that while India strongly believes in the concept of self-reliance and does not encourage self-centric arrangements. India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means ‘ the world is one family,’ has guided its cooperation with more than 123 countries worldwide.
Mauritius, an island state, with its population density being amongst one of the highest in the world. It is mostly dependent on the external environment. Due to its longstanding historical ties, India and Mauritius share a strong partnership when it comes to public healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of India’s first partners to avail the medicines under its diplomacy stand was Mauritius.
Continuing with its COVID-19 diplomacy, in which India, on April 13th, 2020, sent supplies of the drug HCQ, along with other medicines, to two Indian Ocean island nations—Mauritius and Seychelles—by special Air India charters. The Mauritius consignment comprised 13 tons of life-saving medicines, including half a million tablets of HCQ. A second consignment was sent in the following weeks. There are many other ongoing and earlier instances of this partnership in the healthcare sector, including Ayurvedic and traditional medicines.
Further, the shipment of essential medicines and the Medical Assistance Team aboard INS Kesari during this pandemic was part of the ‘Mission SAGAR’, shed light on India’s commitment towards its maritime neighbours and partners in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The ‘Mission SAGAR’ has also included supplies for the Maldives, Madagascar, Seychelles, and The Comoros to meet our common challenges in these difficult times jointly. Moreover, Mauritian experts are attending some technical webinars on managing the COVID-19 pandemic organised under India’s ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme by Indian medical institutions, including by the All-India Institute for Ayurveda. India built a state-of-the-art energy-efficient hospital in Mauritius, opened by Indian PM Modi and PM of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth last year on October 3rd, being used to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Through the initiative of ‘Vaccine Maitri’ (maitri=friendship) diplomatic mission, launched on 20 January 2021, India aspires to bridge the world’s vaccine divide. The mission comprises vaccine assistances to indigent neighbours, including Bhutan (0.15 million doses), Maldives (0.1 million), Nepal (1 million), Bangladesh (2 million), Myanmar (1.5 million), Mauritius (0.1 million), Seychelles (0.05 million), Sri Lanka (0.5 million), Bahrain (0.1 million) and Oman (0.1 million). Other beneficiaries of India’s strength in vaccine production are the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries (0.5 million doses), Nicaragua and the Pacific Island states (0.2 million doses each).
Diasporas mobilise quickly in such a humanitarian crisis because of the close links to origin countries. They know how to deliver the required resources to the affected communities. As they are engaged with them long before the crisis, they often enjoy the diaspora communities’ trust.
Diaspora philanthropy and resource mobilisation in humanitarian crises do not include sending money to extended family members. Apart from supplying relief to affected regions (whether be it clothes, food, medical supplies and equipment, educational or other materials), diasporas also raise funds for relief efforts. Diaspora skills, technical know-how and expertise are also applied in humanitarian crises. Moreover, such contributions from diasporas are also being recognised as the ‘humanitarian-development nexuses. They help with preparedness and resilience building, emergency response, right through to post-crisis reconstruction and helping rebuild economies shattered by emergencies with remittances and investments in affected areas.
In a post-COVID-19 world, India has a comparative advantage in becoming a reliable global public-goods and healthcare provider. India’s pharma industry is the third-largest in the world. According to India’s government, India supplied 18% of the world’s generic drugs. Due to its lower pricing, India is also one of the leading producers globally, contributing around 50% of the global vaccine demands.
Besides the essential drugs, including HCQ, Paracetamol, and Ibuprofen, India is also sending other antibiotics, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-asthmatic, and cardiovascular drugs to 32 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Chad, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. On the list of items to be sent, there are injections, medical devices, and thermometers.
We expect that the COVID-19 threat will eventually fade, as the Ebola, Zika, and SARS viruses have vanished in the past few years. However, the impact would be felt longer in the socio-economic arena. So, we need to overcome this deadly threat to humanity by building a more sustainable and resilient world through enhanced global cooperation.
Chandani Tiwari is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She is also the Editorial Associate of the insight on Africa Journal.