On COVID-19: What to expect from China-Africa cooperation

By Shen Shiwei Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/20 0:31:08

An Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight filled with medical supplies donated to Africa from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation arrives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 22, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

Curbing the virus, recovering the economy and supplies chains, and psychological reconstruction among the public are on track, both in African countries and China. As a person with years of experience in several African countries and with many African friends, I have been following the trend, measures and international cooperation amid African countries' fight against this public health emergency. Meanwhile, I have learned from these issues in China and African countries. Let me share three things I learned about joint China-Africa fight against COVID-19 and how this public health cooperation will affect post pandemic China-African ties.

The unfading China-Africa mutual trust matters amid these difficult times.

Public health cooperation has been one of the most effective areas in China-Africa ties in the past six decades. On April 16, China's first batch of medical expert teams on COVID-19 arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since then, China has sent a total of 148 medical workers to 11 African countries, assisted local epidemic control and provided guidance through video conference with African medical experts and resident Chinese medical teams in neighboring countries.

For years, many African countries' public health systems suffered from a brain drain of well-educated and trained doctors, nurses and medical staff. Now, some positive changes have emerged amid the pandemic. 

Many African people in China, especially medical students, joined the local anti-pandemic campaign. How was China fighting the virus? A Mauritius couple shared their experience and knowledge with friends at home on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Numerous online experiences were shared on the trend of epidemic control and economic development in Africa. I have participated in many of these online activities. From my experience, all these will help Africa's capacity building, especially on emergency response.

With in-depth exchanges between Chinese medical experts dispatched to Africa and local health departments, experience sharing among medical staff and site visits to local communities, China-Africa public health cooperation has opened platforms for African countries to upgrade domestic manufacturing chains and improve medical capacity. And more international partners can join the program. 

Years of infrastructure construction provides solid support to the continental battle.

Access to food, jobs, clean water, medical supplies, electricity, internet and many others are essential amid this prolonged epidemic, as well as economic and social recovery in a post COVID-19 era. During my stay in some African countries, I could feel the daily changes - fewer blackouts, well-constructed roads, faster and reliable internet connection, more stable telecommunications and well interconnected flights through airports. 

When many African countries locked down cities and towns, the dams and power plants built through China-Africa cooperation injected momentum to society. Telecommunications facilities expanded in these years, ensuring online office, education and daily communication for anti-pandemic coordination. And many companies in industrial parks are manufacturing urgently needed masks and other protective gear. 

Airports and airlines across Africa like Ethiopian Airlines are playing an important role in transporting and distributing supplies donated by China, WHO and many others. The United Nations is constructing logistic hubs in Ethiopia to transport anti-pandemic supplies to all African countries. 

As more countries gradually reopen their economy, despite the risks of COVID-19, infrastructure for public health, digital economy, internet connection and good governance will be more critical.

More items will be listed in China-Africa cooperation agenda.

Besides traditional government aid, we have seen more partners - medical materials donated by the Jack Ma Foundation, Chinese chambers, Chinese communities; online communications among youth from both sides; flourishing interactions on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook among Chinese, Africans and many others. Also, dealing with fake news and disinformation amid the pandemic became a new agenda for both sides.

It's also the right time for China to learn from other partners including the WHO on how to implement public health cooperation with African countries, such as standards and practices of medical systems in different countries, as well as the risks.

The author is non-resident fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, and research fellow at Charhar Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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