China, Africa explore partnerships on health challenges

stethoscopeChinese and African leaders have met at the 4th International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Cooperation and the first China-Africa health meeting to be held in Africa, to explore new partnerships to address some of the most pressing health challenges facing the continent.

The meeting, which was held Monday, May 6, 2013 in Gaborone, Botswana to promote South-South partnership on African health priorities, was also aimed at strengthening an innovative health partnership and promoting sustainable health solutions that meet the needs and priorities of African countries, while drawing on China’s unique expertise.

One aim of the roundtable, which had as its major theme; “how African and Chinese officials can create win-win scenarios that will benefit all partners”, was to develop joint recommendations that could lay the groundwork for a long-term strategic plan for China-Africa health cooperation, which could be considered at the Ministerial Forum of China-Africa Health Development, part of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), scheduled to take place in August in Beijing.

Officials at the two-day roundtable engaged in sessions focused on determining how China and African countries can jointly tackle critical issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, reproductive health, access to life-saving vaccines and non-communicable diseases.

Topics discussed included how to shape health cooperation between China and Africa and help achieve long-term, sustainable gains, such as strengthening health systems and addressing the shortage of healthcare workers.

The roundtable participants also discussed how African countries can best work with Chinese scientists and pharmaceutical manufacturers to increase access to high-quality, low-cost health technologies, while ensuring products are safe and meet international quality standards.

They also explored how China can help support Africa’s local production of health products, while at the same time, African leaders shared their expertise on areas where China can learn from Africa, such as around AIDS prevention and treatment, to help improve China’s efforts at home.

Available statistics indicate Africa has been very successful in scaling up HIV treatment as well as prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes.

The roundtable sessions were guided by discussion papers that draw on extensive research and discussion developed by the China-Africa Health Cooperation Taskforce, comprised of members of the Chinese government and leading technical institutions, with the support of international partners, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS, PATH, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Health Strategies Initiatives (GHSi) and other organisations.

The papers used proposed pilot projects for China-Africa collaboration in areas such as strengthening laboratory systems; establishing national control systems for malaria and schistosomiasis; transferring ARV drug manufacturing technology and technical support for local production; training African health personnel; and sharing China’s expertise in cold chain management and surveillance systems to boost immunisation coverage.

Sessions also addressed ways to ensure transparency in these efforts and to guarantee high quality products.

Participants at the roundtable included China’s Director General of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, health ministers from Botswana and Ghana; leaders from the African Union; representatives from the United Nations, non-governmental organisations and entrepreneurs and business owners from China and Africa.

In his comment on the roundtable, Hon. Rev. Dr. John G. N. Seakgosing, Botswana’s Minister of Health, commented: “Indeed, China and Africa have a long history of collaborating on health, built on shared challenges, experiences and addressing similar issues,” adding, “China has a unique role in supporting African health progress. And with this roundtable, we look forward to deepening our partnership to benefit the health of our citizens.”

For his part, Dr. Ren Minghui, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation at China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, stated: “Africa’s future is closely linked with our own and improving health is a critical building block towards a common prosperity.”

“African countries have made tremendous gains to improve the health of their citizens. With China and Africa working hand-in-hand on health, we can have even greater impact,” he submitted further.

Adding his voice, H. E. Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner of Social Affairs of the African Union, said: “South-South cooperation facilitates optimisation of resources, both human and material. This creates opportunities to share knowledge and experience, which contributes to sustainable health solutions.”

He affirmed that “China-Africa health partnership is based on a sense of shared responsibility and global solidarity in responding to health challenges.”

Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of Programme of UNAIDS, however stated that “The global health landscape is changing, with more partners than ever joining these efforts,” saying “The AIDS response and other experiences paved the way for transformative progress on health and can help China and Africa engage on a whole new level and innovate on a broad range of health issues.”

Sharing his views on the roundtable, Dr. Ray Yip, Director of the China Programme of the Gates Foundation opined that since “China has tremendous potential to support Africa’s long-term development by leveraging innovation, the roundtable is an opportunity to define a path for China and Africa to make a positive impact together on health.”

This year’s roundtable was hosted by the Botswana Ministry of Health, the China Chamber of Commerce of the Ministry of Commerce and the Institute for Global Health of Peking University.

The roundtable series, organised by the Institute for Global Health and the China Institute of International Studies, began in 2009 as part of a China-led initiative to evaluate and improve its foreign assistance.

It was held at a time China and other emerging economies are bringing new resources and approaches to improve the health of people around the world.

It also coincided with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the provision by China of medical teams to Africa, with China also supporting African health personnel, infrastructure, malaria control and other programmes such as scholarships for training health experts.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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