Deepen health cooperation and build a China-Africa community of shared future
By Cui Li, Deputy Director of the National Health Commission Translated by Xu Chengzhi
Although China and Africa are far apart from each other, the ancient Silk Road of China has opened the door of Chinese and African medical exchanges since more than 2,000 years ago. Zheng He commanded seven expeditions and his fleet sailed as far as east Africa, arriving in Kenya, the Comoros Islands, and the Seychelles. The accompanying medical officers not only set the precedent of sharing Chinese medicine and acupuncture with Africans, but also gained preliminary understanding about epidemics, endemics, and animal and plant resources in that region.
In the 1960s, in support of the development of health in developing countries, China sent the first aid medical teams to Algeria in 1963. In the past 55 years, China has sent 21,000 medical aid members to 48 African countries, treating 220 million patients. The China-Africa Cooperation Forum, established in 2000, serving as both a platform for collective dialogue between China and African countries and a mechanism to promote pragmatic cooperation, has also brought China-Africa health cooperation into the “fast track”. Now the investment grows fast, assistance and cooperation are diversified, with more diverse participants and more diverse forms of cooperation. In 2013, with the introduction of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, the flow of people, goods, capital and technology between China and African countries has increased rapidly. Building a China-Africa community of shared future in the field of health is not only related to the health of both peoples, but also helps to maintain the safety of China and Africa. Under the framework of the 2015 China-Africa Cooperation Forum Johannesburg Summit on China-Africa's “China-Africa Public Health Plan”, China-Africa health cooperation has made a series of important progress.
The medical service cooperation has achieved fruitful results. China has established cooperation with 18 African counterpart hospitals and built a number of medical demonstration centers such as the Intensive Care Center, Heart Center, Minimal Invasive Surgery Center, and Ophthalmologic Center. These counterpart hospital specialist and cooperation centers are not only the base for cooperation and exchange of medical science and medical technology between China and Africa, but also for localized teaching and training. They are also institutions for the African medical staff who will return to work after coming to China for further study, thus truly realizing the goal of “teaching people how to fish”.
Health innovation cooperation is booming. Since 2015, the National Health Commission has carried out demonstration programs on maternal and child health in seven countries including Cape Verde and Zimbabwe to help African countries improve basic facilities and equipment, personnel capacity building and department building for health institutions at all levels, so as to expand quality service for women and children. In Botswana, Morocco and other countries, China has conducted more than 20 rounds of "Brightness Action" free surgery, helping more than 5,000 cataract patients to see the light. These projects have been well received by the people of African countries and have become an important brand of health cooperation between China and Africa.
Public health cooperation is gradually deepening. In 2014, the Ebola outbreak occurred in West Africa. China dispatched nearly 1,200 medical experts to the West African countries to support the epidemic prevention and control, and assisted in the establishment of the Sierra Leone Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) Laboratory and the Ebola Relief Center in Liberia. Since 2015, China has supported the construction of the African CDC, dispatched experts to participate in the African CDC work and cultivate African public health talents; China has launched a malaria prevention and control project in Comoros to reduce the number of deaths from malaria to zero. The incidence rate dropped by 98%; the schistosomiasis prevention and control project was carried out in Tanzania; China also sent public health experts to Angola, Madagascar, Congo (Kinshasa) and other countries to help cope with and prevent yellow fever, plague, Ebola and other infectious diseases. China has since then trained nearly 1,000 public health professionals for Africa.
The prospects for cooperation in the health industry are promising. Pharmaceutical trade is the highlight of China-Africa health cooperation. In 2017, the bilateral trade volume in this sector has reached 2.432 billion US dollars. In recent years, Chinese pharmaceutical companies have set up factories or sales operation in Ethiopia, Sudan, Mali, South Africa and other African countries, and accelerated the pace of localization of drugs in Africa. Chinese companies’ market share has gradually expanded, and they have become a major source of drug imports in many African countries. For example, China has become the largest source of drug imports in Madagascar, accounting for 30% of its market share of imported drugs. African countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda have expressed strong willingness to strengthen cooperation with China in the field of medicine, and they intend to carry out pharmaceutical joint venture projects including pharmaceutical industrial parks.
In 2016, the Chinese government issued the "Outline of the Plan for Healthy China 2030", the theme of which is to involve all citizens in promoting public health and thereby bring health benefits to all. Health has therefore been strategically prioritized in China’s development, which demonstrates the country’s active participation in global health governance and strong commitment to fulfilling the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN 2030 Agenda proposes to eliminate barriers to development, enhance people's well-being, and achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability. The essence of China-Africa health cooperation is to promote health development, which in turn advances the right to health. I am also willing to take this opportunity to make the following recommendations on China-Africa health cooperation:
First, China-Africa health cooperation should put the “Belt and Road Initiative” into practice so as to build a China-Africa community of shared future in the field of health. The China-Africa health cooperation aims to support African countries in strengthening health systems and promoting universal health coverage through knowledge sharing, technical cooperation and various forms of assistance and joint projects. The cooperation between China and Africa in improving the emergency response capability of the public health system will significantly reduce the impact of public emergencies on economic growth and social stability. China-Africa cooperation, especially in global and regional multilateral health governance mechanisms, will help to increase the influence and voice of developing countries on the global health governance agenda.
Second, China-Africa health cooperation should aim at helping African countries improve their ability to develop independently. In response to the urgent problems and demands of African countries in the post-Ebola period of health system building and development, the Johannesburg Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2015 proposed the implementation of the China-Africa Public Health Plan. China is participating in African public health prevention and control systems, counterpart hospitals, human resources training. China encourages local drug production by Chinese companies. The main purpose of these actions is to support the capacity building of African countries. These efforts aim to shift China-Africa health cooperation from infrastructure, material and medical team assistance to technical cooperation with a focus on upgrading African countries' health systems.
Third, China-Africa health cooperation should continue to explore and innovate in a bold manner. African countries are facing a double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and there’s a demand for updating cooperation between China and Africa. China needs to improve its strategic coordination, precision alignment and support capabilities. In the future, by following the principles of cooperation being initiated, agreed and led by Africa, China will continue to innovate in medical and health development assistance and cooperation models through counterpart hospitals, specialist training, short-term clinics, and public health programs. China will continue to promote global resources, including that of China, in more effectively supporting the independent development of health systems in African countries, advance the building a China-Africa community in the field of health, so as to contribute to global health and safety and its sustainable development.
In September 2018, the Beijing Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum will be held in China. I believe that with the joint efforts of China and Africa, the Beijing Summit will surely become another historic event to strengthen China-Africa solidarity and cooperation. We look forward to working with Africa, in line with the principle of wide consultation, joint development and shared benefits, to strengthen cooperation in the field of health, promote the building of a China-Africa community with a shared future, and contribute to the realization of the AU's "2063 Agenda" and the UN 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals. Let’s make the world a better place and the peoples in China and Africa healthier!
⬆Sudan Uttoman Friendship Hospital — Members of the Chinese medical team and China Investment reporters