India’s healthcare sector has much to offer Africa
When the world emerges from the Covid-19 crisis there will be a greater need to improve and upgrade healthcare infrastructure. And Indian healthcare companies will have a lot to offer Africa in that respect.
- India has long been engaging with several African nations to help mitigate and eradicate infectious diseases by making generic medicines available at low costs.
- The Indian pharma companies have been hiring local workforce and up-skilling them.
- As a part of its pharma diplomacy initiative, India has recently provided medical aid to 25 African countries at a total cost, including transportation of around $7.9 million.
Sub-Saharan Africa makes up for nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population, with the numbers projected to double by 2050 by the UN. India and Africa have a long historic connection forged by trade. A connection, which over the past century, has evolved into a stronger south-south connection.
Healthcare is an important sector for both India and Africa. The wide spread prevalence of infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, cholera and HIV/AIDS has long plagued the African continent. In addition, the coronavirus crisis has now spread to the region, adding to its healthcare woes.
Currently, Africa, imports between 70-90 per cent of its drugs, with India being the third-largest pharmaceutical supplier to Southern and Western Africa. But the impact of COVID-19 means the region’s needs are escalating and the stakes to address its healthcare issues will only get higher. Research shows that the African pharmaceutical market will be $56 billion to $70 billion by 2030.
A friend in need
India ranks third in the world for pharmaceutical production by volume and 13th by value. It accounts for about 10 per cent of the world’s production by volume and 1.5 per cent by value. The pharmaceutical sector is also one of the prime sectors India is looking to expand when it comes to exports, with plans aims to increase its industry revenue to $120 billion-$130 billion by 2030.
India has long been engaging with several African nations to help mitigate and eradicate infectious diseases by making generic medicines available at low costs, often far lower than what it sells to its western counterparts. India has also initiated various initiatives geared towards improving healthcare across the African continent.
The Pan-African e-Network, launched in 2009, has connected hospitals in 53 African countries with medical practitioners in India to provide tele-medicine training and consultations.
Then the Madiba-Mahatma Initiative by the Exports-Imports Bank of India built an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million, and an additional $10 billion as LoC.
The Indian private sector too has been doing its bits. Indian companies, like Cipla Ltd and Serum Institute of India, have played a crucial role in making aﬀordable medicines and vaccines available to African nations for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and Meningitis. For example, in early 2001, the Indian pharmaceutical firm Cipla provided three-segment Antiretroviral (ARV) medication treatment to Africans at a cost of only $350 a year per person, a quarter of the market price. Others such as Dr Aggarwal’s Eye and Apollo hospitals have set up hospitals and clinics, bringing quality healthcare to the people of Africa.
More recently, India has provided medical aid to 25 African countries at a total cost, including transportation ,of around $7.9 million as part of its pharma diplomacy initiative. A consignment of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was sent to African nations: Madagascar, Zambia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Congo, Egypt and Comoros. Another consignment of paracetamol was shipped to Zambia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Chad, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
The way ahead
The Indian pharmaceutical sector has played a key role in Africa’s healthcare through local manufacturing of drugs and medical devices creating employment and building capacity.
As several African nations are struggling to grapple the onslaught of the coronavirus crisis and its impact, the need to increase local infrastructure and skill will only increase.
According to McKinsey, Africa has very basic infrastructure to develop its own healthcare. Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt – the region’s three most populous nations – have 1,920 intensive care beds between them for more than 400 million people. There is also an acute shortage of critical care equipment. For example, Somalia has nineteen ventilators, Liberia has six, the Central African Republic has three ventilators while some nations, such as Guinea Bissau, have no ventilators at all.
There is a huge scope for Indian healthcare companies to step in to fill this gap. The Indian pharma companies have long been hiring local workforce and up-skilling them. India is also no stranger in offering several African nations funds and assistance in building hospitals. The eVidya Bharti e Arogya Bharti (eVBAB) project furthers the Pan-African e-Network, providing tele-medicine training opportunities for African doctors, nurses and paramedics. Apollo Hospitals Group also ran a specialised training program for paramedics from nine African countries in 2018. There is a huge opportunity for Indian healthcare companies to continue furthering these efforts.
Before the pandemic, there was also a growing temporary movement of Indian doctors and nurses to Africa for short term assignments to help the region’s population to avail of Indian medical expertise as well as help train local staff. This could also be another option to be explored for the future. When the world emerges from the Covid-19 crisis there will be a greater need to improve and upgrade healthcare infrastructure, particularly within Africa. And Indian healthcare companies have a lot to offer the region.
Dr Ishita Mandrekar is the Online Editor at ‘India Global Business’.