India’s virtual path into Africa

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images Back in November, Passport noted that urban Indian hospitals were developing their telemedicine capabilities in order to cater to the country’s rural citizens. Now, that expertise is set to benefit patients all across Africa. As the first India-Africa summit kicks off in Delhi, India’s efforts build and expand its ties across the African ...

595597_080408_india_africa2.jpg
595597_080408_india_africa2.jpg

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Back in November, Passport noted that urban Indian hospitals were developing their telemedicine capabilities in order to cater to the country's rural citizens. Now, that expertise is set to benefit patients all across Africa. As the first India-Africa summit kicks off in Delhi, India's efforts build and expand its ties across the African continent are already underway.

Last July, the Indian government -- working with the African Union -- launched the 542 crore ($135.6 million) Pan-African E-network project. The initiative has been called Africa's largest infrastructure project in history, and is designed to develop Africa's information and satellite communications technologies. It aims to connect 53 African countries to a satellite and fiber-optic network. Telemedicine is just one component of this broader scheme, and African countries are already seeing the results. The Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for instance, is connected to the Care Group of Hospitals (cardiac specialists) in Hyderabad, where Indian doctors can advise Ethiopian doctors on X-ray and laboratory test result interpretation via a high-speed internet connection. During its year-long pilot run, Black Lion doctors have used the link more than 50 times, and Indian officials estimate the E-network project has helped 100 patients. Telemedicine programs are set to expand across the continent.

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Back in November, Passport noted that urban Indian hospitals were developing their telemedicine capabilities in order to cater to the country’s rural citizens. Now, that expertise is set to benefit patients all across Africa. As the first India-Africa summit kicks off in Delhi, India’s efforts build and expand its ties across the African continent are already underway.

Last July, the Indian government — working with the African Union — launched the 542 crore ($135.6 million) Pan-African E-network project. The initiative has been called Africa’s largest infrastructure project in history, and is designed to develop Africa’s information and satellite communications technologies. It aims to connect 53 African countries to a satellite and fiber-optic network. Telemedicine is just one component of this broader scheme, and African countries are already seeing the results. The Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for instance, is connected to the Care Group of Hospitals (cardiac specialists) in Hyderabad, where Indian doctors can advise Ethiopian doctors on X-ray and laboratory test result interpretation via a high-speed internet connection. During its year-long pilot run, Black Lion doctors have used the link more than 50 times, and Indian officials estimate the E-network project has helped 100 patients. Telemedicine programs are set to expand across the continent.

The Indian government hopes to increase its sales in information and communication technologies to Africa, and gain a foothold in this sector before China can dominate. In addition to helping patients and developing African countries’ ICT infrastructure, projects such as the telemedicine venture will also create goodwill between India and the continent — a sentiment often lacking in China-Africa relations.

With India also hungry for resources that Africa can provide, developing these types of mutually-beneficial linkages could favor India in the long run. And through its relatively long history with Africa, India has been able to take advantage of existing cultural and commercial affinities to expand the relationship. As a result, trade between India and Africa has ballooned to $20 billion (2006/2007) from $967 million in 1991 (when India began its economic reforms). But whether these efforts, and India’s attempts at creating goodwill, can compete with China’s cash and favors remains to be seen.

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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