Epidemic of COVID-19 and Support of Indian Pharmaceutical Industry in Africa

by Prof. Suresh Kumar Raj Kumar - 13 April, 2020, 12:00 3900 Views 0 Comment


COVID-19 or commonly known as Coronavirus has spread in most of the parts of the Africa continent. As a result, more than 10,000 people have already been infected across the continent and more than 500 people have already died. South Africa, the most industrialized economy in the continent has1749 cases of Corona, followed by Egypt (1450), Algeria (1468), Morocco (1184) and others (Hindustan Times, Delhi, 10 April 2020: emphasis mine). The World Bank fears that Coronavirus outbreak is going to push Sub-Saharan Africa into recession, this year, for the first time in 25 years. The damage done so far across Africa needs affirmative support of the pharmaceutical industry and the continent is looking towards India being an all-time supporter. India is one of the leading exporters of generic drugs across the world and supplies up to 50 percent of the United States’ generic drug needs.

This epidemic has disrupted the supply chains of the global pharmaceutical industry and gives a good opportunity to India to reassess dependencies and plan for the future global market demands. Government of India investment policy claims India ranks third in the worldwide for pharmaceutical production by volume and 13th by value ( 10 April 2020). Indian pharmaceutical products are known for their affordable lower price in the world and attract heavy demands in the global market. India is known as the pharmacy of the world by its best products having cheaper prices for the end-user in the global market.

Pharmaceuticals is one of the major components of India’s trade expansion strategy in Africa. India always supports Africa through low-cost generic medicines in treating HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and others. As a result, Indian company Cipla supplies HIV/AIDS drugs at a dollar a day in Africa reduces the financial burden on the government and the sufferers. The EXIM Bank recently highlights that commercial trade between Africa and India has expanded more than eight-fold from $7.2 billion in 2001 to $59.9 billion in 2017. According to projections, Africa’s-India trade could double by 2021, especially if appropriate steps are taken by sovereign and corporate entities to reap the full benefits of growth and of the potential offered by the two trading partners (EXIM Bank Report, 2018. Deepening South-South Collaborations. Cairo:06).  

What’s happening in Africa

The epidemic of COVID-19 in Africa has become a major threat to its health system.  Africa’s relatively weak health system also faces other infectious diseases such as HIV, Malaria, tuberculosis and others. The WHO estimated that it provides COVID-19 testing kits and protective equipments to health workers in the thirty-six African countries only.  Health care in Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world, with few countries able to spend the $34 to $40 a year per person that the WHO considers the minimum for basic health care. Most of the region lacks the infrastructure to deliver health care and faces a severe shortage of trained medical personnel. The New Report of IFC estimates that over the next decade, $25-30 billion in new investment will be needed to meet Africa’s healthcare demand. This is a chance to increase access to health care for millions of Africans. The opportunities for private investors demand investments in better production facilities and distribution/retail systems for pharmaceuticals and medical supplies (IFC, 2020).  

Support of Indian Pharmaceutical Industry

India is known for its supportive partnership in all the crisis period in Africa. The medical wing of Indian Peace Keeping Forces under the guise of the UNO has been produced exemplary work and opened its medical support to the civilian community of African society. The author personal experience of observing the working of the medical corps of the UNMEE mission of India in Ethiopia and Eritrea by sharing the medicinal support to their societies free of cost and proved its humanitarian mettle.

Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry of India has proved in reducing the sickness burden in dealing with communicable and non-communicable diseases by providing generic medicine in cheaper or affordable prices to the African society. This is the only valid ground that Indian pharmaceutical accounts about 40 percent of the total export in Africa (EXIM Bank India Report, 2019) and cherishes its fertile ground of serving humanity.

The current situation of the market in Africa is uncertain and it will take time to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the local market. Indian pharmaceuticals should redesign their investment plan in Africa keeping the longer time period in mind and look for opportunities accordingly.  

Indian Support against COVID-19

The government of India is equally concerned about the needs of medicinal support to the world community including the Africa continent in fighting against the COVID-19 epidemic and partially lifted a ban on the export of hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol medicines, a drug in controlling the high fever of human body on 6th April 2020. China, India, USA, Europe, Brazil, South Korea and other countries have recommended these medicines as one of the several treatments for COVID-19 patients. Ministry of External Affairs and the Department of Pharmaceuticals are equally concerned about the request to supply the drugs mentioned above to the African countries and look into affirmatively. Mr. Narender Modi, India’s Prime Minister is personally connected with all the African Head of States via hotline telephonic communication and will deal with their concerns supportively. Mr. Bipul Chatterjee, Head of CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment stated, “This decision was an ideal example of how trade equations will develop in the post-COVID-19 world, where food and medicines will increasingly become part of national security concerns. In this case, India seems to have enough hydroxychloroquine to export on humanitarian grounds” (TIME, 7th April 2020).    

Challenges & Conclusion

Today, Africa urgently needs the virus testing kits, personal protective equipments and generic medications in bulk. China’s health industry is question marked because of its:

1. Doubtful quarantine mechanism on its industrial export production,

2. Genuine reliability of COVID-17 free supply of medical equipments and medicinal products in the world market,

3. Unreliability of prices of medical equipments and pharmaceutical for export purposes,

4. Uncertainty of working of Chinese industries and their supply chains in the given environment,

5. Use of Chinese medical products may become a continuous threat of epidemic, and

6. Re-beginning of attack of COVID-17 in China and the world in large and its impact thereupon.

Under the given circumstances, the pharmaceutical industry of India should plan for the multi-dimensional approach in Africa by adopting the humanitarian approach, flexible market approach and orientation of future investment in pharmaceuticals in Africa by connecting State, market and people. This holistic approach of the Indian pharmaceutical industry will support the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from July 2020 onwards on the one hand and will accomplish the task of becoming the world’s biggest supplier in the world including Africa on the other hand. Concluding, India respects its partnership in developing the capacity building for healthcare and pharmaceutical industry and infrastructure that will support the self-reliant program of Africa in longer terms.

Prof. Suresh Kumar
Deptt. of African Studies, Delhi University & Chief Editor,
Raj Kumar
Author is Assistant Professor, Political Science, SPM College, University of Delhi.

1 reply on “Epidemic of COVID-19 and Support of Indian Pharmaceutical Industry in Africa”

A path guiding and innovative article Sir.
For this beautiful paper, I Yogesh Kumar congratulate to you Dr Rajkumar Phulwaria and Prof Suresh Kumar.

Yogesh Kumar
Ph.d Research Scholar
Dept of African Studies
Delhi University

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