Cooperation in Traditional Medicine & HealthCare a Win-Win for Africa and India

Africa Diary

One of the major challenges before India is to resolve Africa’s problem of public health and ensuring food and nutritional security

The African leaders have made it abundantly clear that for the development of the continent they are open for cooperation with any country that would result in a win-win situation for both. Development of the continent can be possible if there is a greater flow of investment, setting up of industries that would lead to creation of more jobs & 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 & 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 that can ensure a win-win situation in the process. One of the significant areas where India’s engagement with the continent has been a success story is the field of affordable & 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 United Nations General Assembly (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 devastating Ebola pandemic, New Delhi offered financial assistance that led to early detection of emerging dangerous pathogens like Ebola and Marburg viruses enabling more effective response. Two Indian scientists are 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 World Health Organisation (WHO) fatalities on account of NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and cancer are likely to increase by 27 percent over the next 10 years. Most of the NCDs are due to lifestyle problems.

One of the major challenges 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 the 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 empanelled 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, Aurobindo Pharma, JB Chemicals, Cadila Healthcare, Lupin and Intas Pharmaceuticals. Cipla has taken initiative in Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho and Zambia. Indian hospitals (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 a 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 on medical tourism for treatment in specialty hospitals and receive treatment from traditional systems of medicines.

India and Africa are enjoying cooperation in the healthcare sector on a 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 cultivation of medicinal herbs 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 enacted the Biological Diversity Act 2002 and set up 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 (CRAMS) are the mechanisms for making new drugs which are cheaper and affordable. New Drugs Price Control Order 2013 and the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) in India make many life-saving drugs cheap and affordable. Besides, India uses flexibility under The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime to produce generic drugs at low cost. Thus, India can be Africa’s befitting partner in reducing its disease burden.

But the use of traditional systems 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, and South Africa have reserves of phosphate rocks while Congo Brazzaville and Ethiopia have potash reserves. Both phosphate and potash fertilizers are needed for Indian agriculture.

At the recently held 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We will also collaborate to develop Indian and African treasures of traditional knowledge and medicines.” Going by this assurance, one can hope that India-Africa cooperation in the health sector will take a new dimension in making use of traditional systems of medicines that can not only be a preventive remedy but also cost effective. Use of traditional medicines can help in nutritional security. India’s traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Siddha can also gain by use of herbs found in Africa.

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