India is spending around $16 million — half of it in Africa — on pharmaceuticals, test kits and other medical assistance for some 90 countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Asian nation has already sent consignments of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), paracetamol and other drugs to 25 African countries at a total cost including transportation of around 600 million rupees ($7.9 million), according to a foreign ministry source.
“We worked out a list of essential drugs keeping their requests in mind,” the official told the Nikkei Asia Review on condition of anonymity.
“Transportation is a problem, but we are trying to reach them by the end of May or early June.” “HCQ has a preventive use, although there is no conclusive evidence on its efficacy against coronavirus,” a medical officer posted in one of the COVID-19 hospitals in New Delhi told KnowAfrika.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the anti-malarial HCQ can be used as a prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19 infection, but not as a treatment.
It can be taken by doctors, health care workers and close contacts of COVID-19 cases. U.S President Donald Trump once promoted the drug as a coronavirus “game changer,” but lately he has toned it down.
“Paracetamol is used in symptomatic care in COVID-19 cases where we see fever,” the medical officer said. He noted that most of the HCQ supplied by India to Africa is going to sub-Saharan countries threatened by malaria.
The World Health Organization has warned that malaria deaths could double in that region in 2020 because of disruptionns caused by the pandemic. Assistance to Africa and Latin America is the second phase of India’s COVID-19 health diplomacy initiative, and follows assistance to immediate South Asian neighbors.
On Mar. 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed $10 million from an emergency fund to assisting seven fellow members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
India has also sent medical supplies, including masks and other types of personal protective equipment to countries around the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia, and also to six African nations.
The official at the Ministry of External Affairs told Nikkei that it has committed to medical aid worth 600 million rupees for 67 countries. Procurement orders have already been placed with government agencies and state-owned companies, such as Kerala-based HLL Lifecare.
The ministry is also providing financial aid to some countries and regional funds.
“Through its health diplomacy, India may be trying to carve out an independent space for itself,” Pant told Nikkei. “The world looks set for a new Cold War between the U.S. and China — COVID-19 may have brought the middle power moment in international politics.”
“The post-coronavirus world order could create space for a group of middle powers to provide global leadership,” said Gautam Bambawale, a former Indian ambassador to China. He believes Japan, India, France and South Africa are among the countries that could become more influential.