China supports AUs plans to set up centres to control and detect disease in Africa

Author: Melanie Peters

THE Chinese government has thrown its weight behind the AU’s plans to set up African Centres for Disease Control in the hope that early detection and treatment of diseases, such as the Ebola virus, will stymie the devastation of such outbreaks. At a press briefing titled China Africa Health Co-operation, in Beijing last week, China’s Health Ministry spelt out its commitment to improving healthcare on the African continent. Feng Yong, deputy director-general of the department of international co-operation at China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, said health experts met members of the AU in Ethiopia to finalise building African Centres for Disease Control. The centre’s headquarters would be in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and would take three years to build. A further five regional centres would be built in Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Egypt and Gabon.

He said China was offering assistance as part of its obligation to strengthen global health security. The Africa Centres for Disease Control would benefit China, too, because there were a large number of Chinese expats living in Africa. The AU estimated the initial costs of the project would be $34-million (R454-million). The centres would lead continental efforts to collect and disseminate disease intelligence and to strengthen the ability of public health institutions to detect and control disease threats based on science and policy.

The AU said the centres would “improve surveillance, emergency response and prevention of infectious diseases”. This includes addressing outbreaks, man-made and natural disasters, and public health events of regional and international concern. It further seeks to build the capacity to reduce disease burden on the continent. Yong also spoke about the long-standing partnership between China and Africa in healthcare and of China’s commitment to help improve the health sector in developing countries and boost efforts for China-Africa co-operation. China already has medical teams in a number of African countries that conduct medical missions.

Last year the country committed R26-billion to developing countries for a variety of sectors. About 80 percent of that money would be spent in Africa. Yong said the organisation aimed to have 20 “sister” hospitals in China and Africa pool their strengths through co-operation. There was a dire need for doctors and nurses in Africa, and China would continue to train medical staff. It was not easy to uproot Chinese from their homes, so the Chinese government would focus on training more medical staff from Africa in China.

One medical university in China had 1 500 students from Africa. Fong said it would be ideal if those students could train in China for five years and further their training for three years back home so they could gain valuable experience in hospitals and learn more about diseases in their countries. Late last month more than 30 ministers of health from Africa met Chinese government officials in Pretoria for a conference, called the China-Africa partnership, to improve access to healthcare. The Chinese agreed to offer African countries, including South Africa, reliable and affordable medicine, vaccines and medical equipment. China also offered to provide training for South African healthcare workers.

Source: Sunday Argus