7 May 2013

Africa: China-Africa Joint Medical Research to Deepen

Photo: Médecins Sans Frontierès
Dr Nuria Carrera and her colleagues doing a daily round in Batangafo hospital.

Gaborone — China will deepen joint medical research with Africa, particularly in training African medical scientists.

Ren Minghui, director-general of the Department for International Cooperation within the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, said research and development is one priority area of collaboration being explored.

"China can support Africa in technical areas of research such as having scientists train in institutions such as the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most important institutes in China for research in preventive diseases," he told SciDev.Net at the Fourth International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Cooperation in Botswana, which ended today (7 May).

Minghui said that joint research programmes between universities and medical schools will benefit both China and Africa, but especially the latter.

"We are looking forward to helping to build capacity for research in Africa in this cooperation," he said. "There are several proposals in different fields of health research that are being looked into."

He said China and its government also encourages technology transfer with Africa. The problem, Minghui said, is that the government does not own the technology, so it can only encourage the research institutes and businesses that do own it, to give Africa access to this knowledge.

It was for that reason, he explained, that the government brought pharmaceutical industry representatives to the meeting in Botswana to allow them to interact and explore potential opportunities for technology access and transfer with their African counterparts.

According to Minghui, traditional medicine is another area in which China will collaborate with Africa, with Chinese experts surveying African countries to find herbs that could be used to treat disease.

Currently, he said, there is a collaboration between China and Tanzania in which some Tanzanian herbs are being studied for their efficacy in treating HIV/AIDS.

"Several African health ministers have made proposals to the Chinese government to help them develop their traditional medicine," he said.

Minghui said that, whereas there has been growing criticism of China's interest in Africa - with some critics arguing that it is driven solely by commercial interest, for example, in African natural resources - the collaboration is based on mutual interest with benefits for both parties.

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

Praising the Africa-China cooperation, Teguest Guerma, director-general of the Nairobi-based Africa Medical and Research Foundation, said the move will see Africa benefit tremendously from China's fast-growing economy.

But she cautioned that domestic governments must also invest in quality, affordable healthcare.

She singled out health information systems as requiring strong and accurate data to ensure that sound policies and effective strategies were enacted to fight disease.

"Data are important for decision-making and for knowing where we are. It is only when we measure the disease burden through collecting sufficient data, whether on malaria or HIV/AIDS, that Africa will be able to make well-informed interventions such as surveillance, prevention and cure," Guerma said.

African governments provide little or no funding for health information systems. "We can't neglect data collection and analysis and wait for others to come from outside and do it for us," she said.

This article was produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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