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Africa-China alliance can only benefit healthcare

China has reduced childhood deaths and illness from diseases that were once widespread.


In a previous life when I was a national immunisation programme manager in Ghana, I saw first-hand the challenges that many African states face in delivering healthcare. 

While attending the ministerial forum on China-Africa health development last week, I was struck by the common legacy that China and African countries share in overcoming such obstacles and the important gains that have been made. 

China and African countries also share a vision for the future: one where all citizens have a chance to lead healthy and productive lives. Our governments understand the African proverb that, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.  

To forge the path ahead, dozens of health ministers from Africa and high-level Chinese government officials met at the ministerial forum in Beijing last week. With representatives of international organisations, including the United Nations, they explored ways to strengthen their partnership to achieve greater health gains on the continent. 

Ministers at the forum also signed the Beijing Declaration of the Ministerial Forum on China-Africa Health Development, which sets out a vision for a continued partnership to address a number of pressing health issues that affect South Africa and other African countries disproportionately. Among these are HIV, malaria, schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia or snail fever), reproductive health, immunisation and vaccine-preventable diseases. 

The declaration also highlights efforts to address the shortage of healthcare workers and increase joint research efforts and ways to increase access to high-quality, low-cost health technologies produced in China that can make a public health impact. 

These new actions build on the long-standing health partnership between China and African countries, which began when China first sent medical teams to the continent 50 years ago. 

China’s partnership with Africa draws on the lessons it has learned from improving the health of its own citizens, and is generating solutions to many health issues, issues that continue to affect millions of Africans. 

Although many African countries have made progress in increasing access to vaccines, many children still remain unimmunised. Through advances in disease surveillance, service delivery and research and development, China has reduced childhood deaths and illness from diseases such as polio, which was once widespread.

Another example is China’s partnership with the GAVI Alliance to increase access to immunisation against hepatitis B, a disease that can cause chronic liver infection and cancer. Just a decade ago hepatitis B infected one in 10 Chinese children. Today, less than 1% of children under five are chronic carriers. 

Such an improvement shows the dramatic gains that can be achieved by expanding access to immunisation. By sharing best practices, technical expertise and innovations, China and Africa’s partnership can work towards addressing other health priorities on the continent.

Chinese and African leaders at the forum also pledged to develop a strategy that is responsive to the needs and priorities of African countries and that invests in country-led development. The South African government, like many of its counterparts, aims to create a health agenda that is led by African leaders and health professionals and puts the country on a path towards sustainable progress. 

Chinese and African partners will work closely with multilateral and international organisations to help strengthen and scale up joint efforts. The GAVI Alliance is committed to supporting China-Africa health co-operation to have an even greater impact.

Health plays a key role in reducing poverty and helping the world’s poorest communities to build self-sufficiency and accelerate their own development. When people are healthy, they can reach their fullest potential. Through collaboration on health, China, South Africa and other African countries will help advance the wellbeing and prosperity of all of their citizens. 

Dr Mercy Ahun is the special representative for GAVI eligible countries. Her work includes strategic support to key GAVI countries, as well as advocating and communicating programme results to donors and other GAVI Alliance partners. She is from Ghana.