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Fighting Ebola Needs Joint Effort by the US and China

Nov 04 , 2014

Since June 2014, two types of killings have troubled the international community. One is the killing of innocent people by the extremists of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the other is the spread of Ebola, a virus of terror, in West Africa. Although the latter does not have the wars and bloodshed like the former one, such a severe and hemorrhagic infectious disease has led to a growing fatality rate due to it fast outbreak and strong infectious nature. Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that by the middle of October, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon, countries most seriously affected by the epidemic, have seen more than 8900 suspected and likely infectious cases with a death toll of 4500. WHO has declared the Ebola epidemic a most serious international emergency in modern human history.

Facing such a rampant epidemic like Ebola, governments of affected countries have responded immediately with a huge input of manpower and resources; however, they are in serious shortage of medical supplies and human resources and need the help of the international community. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened a high-level meeting in response to the Ebola virus during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2014, aimed at mobilizing more global players into the fight against the disease.

In the global battle against Ebola, both the US and China are in the move. President Obama recently announced that the US will send 4000 military personnel to the afflicted region to supply medical and logistical support. China has also made remarkable contribution in terms of medical material providing a cash donation and medical expertise. 

On October 19, China and France circulated a joint press release saying that the two sides will strengthen cooperation in addressing the epidemic in three aspects: 1) carry out joint research on the Ebola virus through the P4 laboratories located in France and China; 2) step up exchanges between their humanitarian and medical aid teams in epidemic-hit countries to share knowledge and experience on preventing and curing the disease; 3) cooperate with a third country in the disease-affected areas to help improve the local public health system. 

Can we expect a similar, even closer cooperation between the US and China on fighting against Ebola, especially given that President Obama will soon come to China for participating the APEC meeting in early November?

Since Xi Jinping took office in March 2013, the United States has been calling on trilateral cooperation with China in Africa, though it is reluctant to embrace the concept. Now, the global fight against Ebola brings a chance for the US and China to find a substantial and urgently needed area for cooperation.

For China, considering its valuable experience in fighting SARS in 2002 and 2003, and the fact it now has the second largest economy in the world, it needs to further increase its contribution in this global battle with Ebola and increase the share of its humanitarian assistance in foreign aid. By doing so, China can only better implement a new increase in its Africa policy, which means keep a good balance between seeking profit and giving benefit to the local community.

It does no good to portray the battle of fighting Ebola as a new frontier of China-US competition in Africa. Some media tend to compare the contributions from the US and China. Some media said that the US has gained the upper hand over China, given its more advanced medical technology, access to prescription drugs and hundreds of millions of dollars in medical assistance input. Furthermore, some media also delight in calculating and comparing the promised, but yet to be delivered aid funding and assistance.

Actually, in the global fight with Ebola, China has made remarkable contributions in terms of providing medical material, cash donations and dispatching medical expertise. It is more commendable and worth pointing out that China has offered the most-needed and most precious human resources – sending Chinese medical teams and experts on disease control and public health to Africa, who are also in the frontline against Ebola. Ever since the arrival of the first Chinese medical team in Algeria in 1963, over 20,000 Chinese medical experts and staff have been sent to Africa over the past half century. These experts have cured several hundred million patients in 51 African countries and regions, and nearly 50 Chinese medical staff have dedicated their lives for that. At present, there are 43 Chinese medical teams with nearly 1,000 members in 42 African countries. When the dangerous epidemic came, the Chinese medical teams in these countries did not go away. On the contrary, they have stayed there to work together with African friends to fight the disease. On top of that, more Chinese medical experts have arrived now at the forefront of African countries to join in the battle against Ebola. Statistics show that since the outbreak of Ebola in three West African countries, China has sent 174 medical staff to support and participate in the disease prevention and control campaign, and a new batch of medical teams are also on the way to be dispatched.

Fighting Ebola and helping African countries to build up their own disease prevention and control capacity is not an easy task that could be done just by one or two countries. Being the first and second economies in the world, the US and China should work together and spare no effort to win the battle against Ebola. So far, we have heard some encouraging progress of anti-Ebola medicines research and application. For example, an experimental drug known as ZMapp, developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical and manufactured by Owensboro, Kentucky-based Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), have proved quite effective after two affected American medical workers were cured with the drug. And recently, we heard that a Chinese pharmaceutical company called Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Group is making progress on similar medicine. This cooperation between the United States and China is hopeful for human society to win the battle against this terrible and severe disease.

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