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India and Tanzania: Cooperation in Healthcare

by Dr. Ruchita Beri - 28 September, 2021, 12:00 188 Views 0 Comment

Mahatma Gandhi had once stated, ‘It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold or silver’. The COVID- 19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of health to people and governments across the world. There is no doubt that good health lays the foundation for vibrant and strong economies.  The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development adopted by all member states of the United Nations (UN) in 2015 advocates a cooperative approach to achieving the goal of universal access to healthcare. India, along with other countries from the global South, has called for joint action in dealing with the COVID- 19 pandemic. It has extended medical assistance to several countries including those in Africa.  The current pandemic provides an opportunity for India to enhance cooperation in healthcare with Tanzania, a maritime neighbour across the Indian Ocean and a long-standing partner in the struggle against colonialism and underdevelopment.

Healthcare in Tanzania

Apart from the current COVID- 19 pandemic, in recent years Tanzania has faced an outbreak of various diseases such HIV-AIDS, cholera, dengue fever, avian influenza and measles. It has also faced the risk of the spread of the Ebola virus from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report suggests that significant health gains have been made by the country.[1] The coverage of treatment for diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria has increased. Around one million people infected with HIV are now receiving treatment.[2]  The performance of the health infrastructure has shown some improvement over time. Despite these achievements, the country continues to face complex public health challenges.  Access to quality health services remains a problem. As per the WHO study, more than half the population is still unable to access health services without incurring financial hardship.[3]

The challenges hindering Tanzania’s health services are inadequate funds, shortage of fully trained health staff, poor communication infrastructure and inadequate supply of medicines.[4] In recent years, the Tanzanian government has implemented major reforms such as an increase in public spending on health and better coordination with development partners; however, some of these challenges persist.[5]

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress on the healthcare system of the country. There were reports that hospitals in the prominent city, Dar es Salaam were overwhelmed with COVID cases at the outset of the pandemic.[6]  Tanzania has very low reported cases of COVID (1367) compared to other countries like South Africa (2, 869, 201), Kenya (244, 826) and India (33, 347,325).[7] However, given the instances of COVID denial and vaccine hesitation on the part of late President John Magafuli, as well as low testing levels, the numbers may be higher.[8] The current President Samia Suluhu Hassan has changed the course of the country’s COVID policy, made efforts to ramp up the testing and launched a vaccination drive. However, with more than 58 million population, the country has a long way to go and is in the lookout for partners to provide access to vaccines, medicines, medical oxygen, COVID-19 diagnostics, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with this deadly virus.[9]

India – Tanzania Cooperation

India and Tanzania have been development partners for a long time. India’s cooperation with Tanzania is driven by the latter’s development priorities.[10] Health has been an important area of collaboration with the country. An agreement on health and medicine was signed between the two countries in 2002.  Tanzania is also part of the Pan- Africa E- network initiated by the Indian government in 2009 to provide telemedicine and education. Indian government supplied medicines as a grant to Tanzania in 2018 and also set up radiation therapy machines for cancer patients in the country. There are three main areas of India’s engagement with the country in the health sector. First, India is the largest supplier of pharmaceuticals in Tanzania. [11]  Due to its vast pharmaceutical industry, India is often referred to as the “global pharmacy.” Therefore, it is not surprising that India dominates the pharmaceutical imports in the country.  Second, Tanzania is the third-largest contributor to medical tourism in India from Africa.[12] India has become a favoured destination for medical tourism on account of its state-of-the-art medical facilities and low cost for patients from several countries.  Third, India is an important investor in Tanzania’s health sector. Some Indian private hospitals have a presence in Tanzania, like Aggarwal Eye hospital and the Apollo group.

Future Prospects

The COVID – 19 pandemic has made the world focus on enhancing health care. It has also highlighted the inequity in access to vaccines and medicines. India has constantly raised its voice against ‘vaccine nationalism’ and called for cooperation for global access to the COVID – 19 vaccine. Under the Vaccine Maitri (Friendship) initiative it has supplied millions of doses of the vaccine to several countries across the world.

There are several pathways for future cooperation between India and Tanzania in the health sector. First, India is one of the largest producers and exporters of the COVID-19 vaccine in the world, however, the resurgence of the pandemic in the country disrupted its exports. India may consider supplying COVID-19 vaccines to Tanzania once it resumes vaccine exports. Second, the Tanzanian government has encouraged investments from Indian generic drug manufacturers to establish production facilities in the country. Indian pharma companies may consider collaboration with Tanzania’s nascent pharmaceutical industry in the near future.  The pandemic has also highlighted the use of online platforms for medical consultations. India has revamped its telemedicine, video consultation, Pan Africa E- network and re-launched it as E- Vidya Bharti and Arogya Bharti (E-VBAB) initiative. This offers an affordable and safe option for people in Tanzania to access medical support.

In conclusion, the current pandemic provides an opportunity for India and Tanzania to enhance their cooperation and work in sync to achieve their shared aspirations of universal access to healthcare.

[1] World Health Organisation, Towards a healthier nation: The WHO Tanzania Investment Case for 2020-2021, at https://www.afro.who.int/sites/default/files/2021-03/WHO%20Investment%20Case_November%202020.pdf

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Kelvin Magaka Robert Swere, “Challenges Hindering the accessibility of Tanzania’s health service: A literature review”, International Journal of Economics and Finance 8(8), 2016, at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305487245_Challenges_Hindering_the_Accessibility_of_Tanzania’s_Health_Service_A_Literature_Review

[5] Ibid

[6] ‘Coronavirus: Tanzania hospitals overwhelmed – US”, BBC News, 13 May 2020,  at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52646640

[7] “Coronavirus“ ,  Worldometers, 16  September 2021, at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/

[8] “Tanzania: Expert committee recommends Covid-19 figures re-publication”, at https://www.africanews.com/2021/06/25/tanzania-expert-committee-recommends-covid-19-figures-re-publication//

[9] Calvin Franke, “The impact of Covid-19 on poverty in Tanzania”, at https://borgenproject.org/impact-of-covid-19-on-poverty-in-tanzania/

[10] “PM’s press statement during his visit to Tanzania”, at https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/press-statement-by-pm-during-his-visit-to-tanzania-july-10-2016/

[11] Laxmi Yadav, “Tanzania allows drug exporters to modify specifications of registered medicinal products” at

http://www.pharmabiz.com/NewsDetails.aspx?aid=129335&sid=1

[12] Alok Ranjan, Rahul Lath, Harinder S. Sidhu, “The advent and growth of medical tourism in India with reference to neurosurgery”, 26 March 2017, at https://www.spinesection.org/news-detail/advent-growth-of-medical-tourism-in-india-with-ref#

Dr. Ruchita Beri
Dr. Ruchita Beri
Author is Senior Research Associate and Centre Coordinator, Africa, LAC & UN Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi
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