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Speech by Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs at the ''India -Africa Health Summit''

December 12, 2020

Dr. Harsh Vardhan Ji,Hon’ble Union Minister for Health and family Welfare, Government of India and Chairman, Executive Board, World Health organization
HE Dr. Lia Tadesse, Hon’ble Minister of Health, Government of Ethiopia
HE Amira Elfadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission
HE Alem Tsehaye Wolemariam, The Dean of African Missions in India-Africa
Shri Rajesh Bhushan, Secreatry, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Ms. Preetha reddy, President, NATHEALTH
Distinguished participants of the Conference

Ladies and gentlemen,

Namasakaram !

1. At the outset, I wish to congratulate NATHEALTH for organizing this conference. India enjoys a special relationship with the countries of Africa because of our shared civilizational values, anti-colonial struggle, and age old people to people ties. After independence of India, our relationship with African countries have grown many fold and matured in to an enduring partnership both in the regional and global context. Therefore, I consider this subject very timely since both India and the fellow developing countries of Africa are facing the common threat of Covid-19 pandemic not only to the life but also livelihood of their people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

2. Currently, we are all witnessing a major health crisis in the form of COVID-19 Pandemic. It has affected most of our established practices, norms and regulations and has emerged as the biggest disruptor. The primary impact of this disruption has been economic. That is why our Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji has said that in our fight against the pandemic we should focus both on ‘Jaan’ and ‘Jahan’; i.e., ‘Jaan bhi Jahan bhi’.

3. The pandemic has underlined the importance of ensuring supply chain diversification and resilience, especially in the healthcare sector. It has made countries re-assess their healthcare infrastructure requirements; focus on availability and affordability of medicines, as well as development of reliable supply chains for critical healthcare products. The world has also realized that it needs more trusted and capable players now. India has the willingness and capability to act as a responsible partner as we are guided by the ancient philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or the world is one family.

4. Even during the pandemic, India has been able to rapidly increase its pharmaceutical production to respond to growing global demands. We supplied medicines to 150 countries including 35 African nations; deployed medical teams to our friend in distress. Because of our proactive assistance to the countries in need, India has come to be seen as the ‘Pharmacy of the world’.

5. Not only that, India also took the lead in engaging the world leaders for evolving a coordinated response to the pandemic. A virtual conference of SAARC leaders on jointly dealing with the pandemic was hosted by India at Prime Minister’s initiative. Our Prime Minister also encouraged early convening of the virtual G-20 summit. He subsequently attended the online NAM summit, and most recently the virtual Global Vaccine Summit where India pledged USD 15 million to GAVI, the international vaccine alliance. We have also pledged our capabilities and production capacities to global efforts for developing vaccines and other treatments at low cost.

6. We feel that it is important to strengthen efforts aimed at the development of an equitable and universal access to diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines. India stands ready to collaborate with the world, especially Africa towards this objective.

Ladies and gentlemen,

7. Government of India also sees health services as an important vector in India’s engagement with Africa. We understand and appreciate the priorities of our African partners. We are aware and have taken note of the Agenda 2063 aimed to achieve a more prosperous Africa through inclusive and sustainable development. The main element of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 and of Agenda 2063 is to ensure good health and wellness of all citizens by 2063 through access to affordable and quality health care services.

8. India too is committed to the SDGs and its commitment to universal access to good quality health care, as outlined in its National Health Policy of 2017, has been factored into the India-Africa development partnership especially in those areas where Indian experience and remedies could be most suitably adapted to Africa’s health care needs.

9. In order to carry forward the strategic vision of the India Africa Forum Summit-III through a structured partnership in the health sector, my Ministry, in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), held the first India-Africa Health Sciences Meet in 2016 in New Delhi. Following this meeting, ICMR has taken the initiative to strengthen cooperation by establishing an India-Africa Health Sciences Collaborative Platform (IAHSP). A MOU has also been signed between the AU and India (ICMR) in March 2019 to cooperate in the areas of research & development, capacity building, health services, pharmaceutical trade and manufacturing capabilities for drugs and diagnostics. I believe, implementing this important MOU will be a crucial milestone in India-Africa health care collaboration, which will be mutually beneficial.

10. We had also planned to hold, in the year 2020, an India-Africa Health Ministers’ meeting with a special focus on the treatment and control of tuberculosis, an invisible but deadly scourge of the developing world. But this meeting could not be held because of the pandemic and I very much hope that we succeed in holding this meeting at the earliest possible occasion since I believe that we have much to learn from each other and India is certainly committed to sharing with our African partners the innovative expertise that we have developed in treating this disease in a focused and effective manner.

Ladies and gentlemen,

11. Ministry of External Affairs launched the Pan African e-Network Project (PAENP) in 2009 with a project cost of Rs. 542 Cores. The project envisaged setting up of an e-network connecting Indian institutions with 53 countries of Africa through satellite and fiber optic links, and providing tele-education and telemedicine services to them. The project has been commissioned in 48 countries that have signed the agreement with Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) for participating in it. The first phase of this programme was over in 2017 and now we are offering 1500 scholarships over a period of 5 years through the second phase of the project renamed as e-VidhyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati Network Project (E-VBAB).

12. The tele-medicine project has become a milestone in the India- Africa relations. Through this mechanism, medical practitioners at the Patient End Location in Africa can consult on-line Indian medical specialists in various disciplines/specialties selected by African Union for its Member States. Any doctor from any of the remote locations in Africa can refer the patient's medical records to the specialists in the Indian Super Specialty Hospitals. African patients can also have a Tele-Medicine video session for live diagnosis and advice by the doctors on a scheduled time in association with the provider, Super Specialty Hospital, and the receiver and the Remote Tele-Medicine centre. Patient consultation centres have already been set up in the following 12 Indian Super Specialty Hospitals including All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

Ladies and gentlemen,

13. I see this summit jointly organized by NATHEALTH and Africa Healthcare Federation as a private sector effort to engage, collaborate, deliberate on a key issue which both India and African countries are interested. I hope during these deliberations attempt will also be made to find solutions to the barriers of access to quality healthcare, building essential infrastructure for patients, harness technology, address the shortage of skilled workforce and medical professionals and ways to improve patient outcomes.

14. It is imperative that Government and industry leaders come together and help create a mechanism through which we can create a conducive policy, regulatory and legal framework around which public-private partnership models can be developed seamlessly on a sustainable basis. I am happy to know that both Africa Health Federation and NATHEALTH are at the forefront to bring industry support behind this to make national programmes successful while opening the doors for Universal Health Care and scale-up health care accessibility.

15. I express hope that this half-day summit will bring key national and international stakeholders and leaders from Africa and India together to deliberate on areas of cooperation with both short term and long term focus. I am happy to know that a white paper will also be released on South-South innovation transfer during this Summit. I wish all the participants fruitful deliberations ahead.

Thank you.

New Delhi
December 12, 2020

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