India’s medical diplomacy during the times of Coronavirus pandemic

Published: April 25, 2020 5:36 PM

While India has a history of medical diplomacy and a robust system of the medical and pharmaceutical industry, it has recently become the focus of world events as India has begun shipments of Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ to fifty-five countries around the world.

India is also the leading producer of generic medicines around the world. File Photo Indian Express

By Aparaajita Pandey

As we continue to live in a world that is governed by Covid-19 and attempts to combat its spread, the dynamics between nations are in a constant state of flux. It has been devastating for most countries to deal with the impact of the virus with a growing number of daily deaths as well as a herculean burden on the economy which is predicted to grow more with the passage of time. While the entire world attempts to deal with the virus and also anticipate and prepare itself for a post-COVID-19 geopolitical scenario, it is easy to believe that nations have started to behave in unexpected and unprecedented ways. However, a closer reflection often clarifies that most nations have tended to tread the same path that they have followed traditionally with governments and citizens behaving in nearly predictable patterns.

A recent and a somewhat puzzling example would be the insistence of a section of the American population to discontinue social distancing; similar patterns of behaviour were also observed during the 1918 flu pandemic. More important, however, is the government’s acceptance of the need for quarantine and social distancing which came much too late during the 1918 flu pandemic and similarly, the US missed the opportunity to stall the spread of the virus in its initial stages and states only announced the lockdown when the death toll was in its thousands and the it was virtually impossible to map the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, there are countries like India and Cuba who have followed predictable yet noble patterns of medical diplomacy. While Cuba relies on a strong medical education and training infrastructure and was able to send teams of its doctors and nursing staff as support to countries not just in Latin America and Caribbean but around the world including Italy, India has offered not just supportive medical staff but also an entire buffet of generic medicines, medical training, and medical tourism.

While India has a history of medical diplomacy and a robust system of the medical and pharmaceutical industry, it has recently become the focus of world events as India has begun shipments of Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ to fifty-five countries around the world. The jury is still out on the effect of HCQ on COVID- 19, however, it is being used by countries to treat some symptoms of the Corona Virus. India has been sending HCQ to countries across the world from the US, and Western Europe to Africa and Latin America. While the drug is being given complimentarily to some nations and being sold to others depending on the economic conditions of the nations, it is not being sold to commercial pharmaceutical companies.

It is not surprising that most of the world turned to India for medical aid in this hour of need. India has a strong and widespread pharmaceutical presence in much of the world including the US, Western Europe, Japan and Australia. These regions have infamously stringent and meticulous pharmaceutical standards. India is also the leading producer of generic medicines around the world. India has also taken this opportunity to be a leader in the training of doctors and other medical staff for its neighbours as Indian Doctors and medical specialists have been conducting on-line training camps of doctors and medical staff of the SAARC countries.

Nepal has also been sent teams of Indian doctors to deal with the testing and treatment of Corona Virus patients. India is also working closely with countries in the middle-east during the pandemic and has been lauded for its generous support by the leaders in UAE and also the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is not alone in the long list of world leaders who have expressed their gratitude towards India including Bolsonaro from Brazil, and also Trump who in his tweets highlighted the close India- US relationship.

India has a history of providing medical and pharmaceutical support to African nations and has continued to do so during the pandemic. Its outreach to regions of Latin America and the Caribbean has bolstered the already robust presence of Indian pharmaceutical sector in the region and has made further in-roads in region. In regions like the Middle- East this act of medical diplomacy would add another facet to a relationship which had previously based itself on energy security and diaspora.

The Indian generosity in the times of this pandemic has not gone unnoticed, while it has earned India well-deserved goodwill, it has also been compared and contrasted with the Chinese PR efforts through sending of medical supplies and equipment including Corona test kits which have turned out to be less than accurate on many occasions. India also enjoys a world image of being a robust democracy and non-predatory as opposed to China.

The Indian act of generosity has turned the world attention towards India and is sure to open doors towards deeper ties around the world.

 

The author is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin America Studies, JNU and Asst. Professor at Amity University, NOIDA. Views expressed are personal.

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