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Africa and China: Improving Health Together

May 07, 2013

Recently I visited Gaborone, Botswana for the 4th International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Cooperation, where leaders from China and 9 African countries are sitting down to discuss how they can work together to tackle vital health challenges. This is the first time the China-Africa health roundtable is being hosted on the African continent.

China’s success in reducing poverty and improving the health of its citizens has already changed the world. 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty in just 30 years. China’s National Immunization Program has helped dramatically cut childhood deaths, and once-common diseases like measles and hepatitis B have been controlled.

Chinese innovation has much to offer African countries. And there are immense opportunities for China and Africa to partner on urgent health and development issues, from improving access to immunization to fighting HIV/AIDS and neglected infectious diseases. These discussions build on more than 50 years of health cooperation, and mark a commitment to learning from all partners and generating mutually beneficial opportunities. This kind of cooperation between developing countries and emerging economies is incredibly important, particularly as traditional sources of assistance are coming under pressure. 

Working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Beijing, I have seen firsthand how Chinese innovators are revolutionizing healthcare. The Gates Foundation has been working in China since 2007, cooperating with the Chinese government on a range of health issues impacting its citizens, including tobacco control, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and vaccine development. Now, what began as partnership with ‘China for China’ can become a partnership with ‘China for the rest of the world’.

The cooperation we’re discussing in Gaborone this week could take a number of forms. One main topic of discussion is how to improve access to lifesaving vaccines. China knows from its own experience that immunizing children is one of the best buys in global health. Working with African governments and international partners, China can offer both short and long term assistance to expand access to vaccines.

As the world moves ever closer to eradicating polio, a greater supply of polio vaccine is required. The biggest Chinese vaccine manufacturer, China National Biotec Group, is working with the Gates Foundation and other partners to ensure a reliable global supply of oral polio vaccine, as well as develop a low-cost injectable polio vaccine to accelerate eradication. China’s efforts will significantly advance polio eradication efforts.

During his recent trip to Africa, China’s President Xi Jinping said the ‘Chinese dream’ of peace and prosperity will not only benefit China, but people around the world. This holds true for global health. China has a unique and increasingly important role to play.

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