Wed 27 May, 2020

India’s Medical Diplomacy During the Covid-19 Pandemic

In the contemporary period, Covid-19 is ruling the world and combating it has become the fundamental agenda of governments across the globe. The vaccine to cure this virus is still being created in laboratories.

Meanwhile, medicines such as Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ have been roped in to treat the symptoms. India has been shipping HCQ and various other drugs to several affected countries. As a result, India’s medical diplomacy and the rise of the Indian pharmaceutical industry has become a focus of world events.

India is exporting HCQ across the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Source: thehansindia.com

This is not the first time New Delhi has taken measures to help countries in need. When the AIDS epidemic had hit Africa, India had supplied anti-HIV drugs to the region. 

The drug provided was of high quality and cost a low rate of USD 400 per patient per year, whereas Western manufacturers were providing it at the cost of USD 1000 per year per patient. 

As a result, the Indian drug enabled African countries to treat 18 times the number of patients, spending only 2 billion dollars instead of the 150 billion dollars required for its Western version. 

Globally, India is a leading producer of generic medicines as about 70% of its pharmaceutical industry produces this drug. The production of medicines in India enhanced after the Ayyangar Committee Report of 1959. This committee was to examine the revision of the Patent Law and advise the government accordingly.

The findings and recommendations of this committee formed the basis of the Patent Act of 1970. In 1969, Indian pharmaceutical companies had 5% share of the Indian market, whereas foreign/global companies had 95%. By 2020, this has reversed; Indian pharmaceutical companies have 85% share of the Indian market, and foreign/global companies have only 15%. 

As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic today, New Delhi has been providing medicines useful for the treatment of the virus. HCQ is an anti – malarial drug that is being shipped in huge quantity to more than 100 affected countries. US President Donald Trump has regarded HCQ as a “game changer” drug to fight against coronavirus.

On 25th March 2020, India put restrictions on export of HCQ and several other medicines due to a global rush to acquire them. However, global need for the medicine during the pandemic period led to requests and even threats of retaliation, especially from President Trump, forcing New Delhi to reconsider and revoke the ban.

New Delhi has dialled up its medical diplomacy through supplying nearly 85 million HCQ tablets and close to 500 million paracetamol tablets. These are shipped to four permanent members of the UN Security Council – USA, Russia, France and UK, as well as 20 African countries and India’s neighbouring nations such as Nepal and Sri Lanka. Additionally, the list also comprises of Brazil, Peru, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Dominican Republic. 

Besides medicines, India has been providing medical kits and telemedicine support to engage and train health care workers in combating the crisis, and medical teams and food products to poor countries. Through Indian Air Force flights, foreign evacuation charters and Indian Navy ships, consignments are sent first to countries worst affected by the virus. 

On the lines of PM Narendra Modi’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), India has also launched the ‘Mission Sagar’ initiative. New Delhi has displaced INS Kesari with medicines, medical assistance teams and essential food items to the Southern Indian Ocean countries of Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles upon their request to India for assistance in dealing with the Covid-19 virus. 

PM Narendra Modi addressing the nation on 12 May 2020, emphasised on the Indian belief of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam of treating people across the world as family. Keeping the ancient ethos, New Delhi has lived by its civilizational credo even in the current century. 

Indian medicines have not only treated patients around the globe but have also brought in a new ray of hope. The international community has now developed trust and belief in Indian ability. New Delhi’s emergence as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ will further develop and accelerate the Indian pharmaceutical industry. 

As India prepares to be self-reliant, the generosity it has shown in helping other nations during this crisis will not go unnoticed. India’s act of aiding various countries during the pandemic has earned the attention of the world. 

The goodwill it has created will lead to deeper relations with various countries. In the post-Covid scenario, it might open doors for New Delhi to be included at high tables with significant influence.

It will also improve Indian credibility in providing relief without discrimination. This can further foster the bond of unity and friendly relations with other nations. 

We cannot fight the coronavirus in isolation. It requires more cooperation, collaboration, and coordination among all the governments of the world. India’s medical diplomacy will not only foster friendly relations among nations but also fasten the process to come out of this pandemic. 

Priyanka Choudhury

Priyanka Choudhury holds a Masters in Political Science and Postgraduate Diplomas in Human Rights and Security Studies from the University of Mumbai.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd