medical diplomacy
Helping handPM Narendra Modi and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the India-Tajik Friendship Hospital in 2015.

Indian doctors, staff offer help to troubled nations as part of medical diplomacy

Healthcare in oil-rich Iraq used to be free for its people, but years of war devastated its infrastructure. So when Iraqi forces fought the Islamic State in Mosul last year, they depended on specialist and critical care provided by Artemis hospital in Gurgaon. It has treated more than 450 Iraqi soldiers since 2014.

But then, it is not just Iraq. Eman Ahmed from Egypt got a visa for treatment in Mumbai, after Dr. Muffi Lakdawala, a bariatric surgeon urged External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to help.

Diplomats see this as part of India’s medical diplomacy tradition, extending today from Ethiopia to Myanmar. “Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis who went to China during the Long March, and Mahatma Gandhi’s Ambulance Corps in the Boer war inspired India to have a policy on medical diplomacy,” said former Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen.

Afghan fighters came

In 1985, when Mujahedin fighters attacked President Babrak Karmal, Ambassador J.N. Dixit had to ensure the safety of Indian diplomats visiting Kabul. The Mujahedin had surrounded Kabul and were firing rockets when Mr. Sen landed there. The Kabul Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital worked overtime with Indian doctors, nurses and Afghan staffers. Later, Northern Alliance fighters were in India for treatment.

Some years ago, Indian officials turned an empty building of the Tajikistan military into what is now a hospital serving the public.

The former ambassador says that after seeing the work done by Indian medical professionals in Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka also sought support. Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male became a beneficiary. as part of this policy of goodwill,” Mr Sen said.

In the past decade and half, national medical diplomacy has spread to Ethiopia, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Eritrea, among other countries in Africa and Asia.

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