By Anupama Tantri and Anna Johnston
Last week, China hosted the Ministerial Forum on China-Africa Health Development, marking the first time that Chinese and African health ministers have ever come together to discuss south-south collaboration on health. Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the meeting which was attended by ministers and senior officials from more than a dozen African countries, demonstrating commitment at the highest levels of government.
A key outcome of the forum included a call for the development and implementation of joint pilot projects between China and Africa on schistosomiasis and other high burden diseases in Africa. Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that affects more than 200 million people worldwide with approximately 90 percent of those affected living in Africa.
Additional outcomes of the meeting are outlined in the Beijing Declaration of the Ministerial Forum on China-Africa Health Development which recognizes health as a central component of cooperation between China and African countries.
While the outcomes will encourage new collaboration between China and Africa, this is not the first time they have worked together to address NTDs. China and several African countries are already making progress to identify how they work together to address schistosomiasis. In May of this year, experts from China and the World Health Organization traveled to Zanzibar to help explore how China could support schistosomiasis control in Zanzibar and other African countries. During the visit, they discussed opportunities for pilot projects and support for pharmaceutical companies to treat schistosomiasis, snail vector control, and technical and laboratory capabilities for improved rapid screening and detection.
The Ministerial Forum on China-Africa Health Development is a significant step towards NTD control and elimination and presents a model for further South-South collaboration on NTDs. The meeting builds on the recommendations for health cooperation developed at the 4th International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Cooperation held in Gaborone, Botswana earlier this year. The meeting also celebrates the 50th anniversary of China’s first medical mission in Africa, and marks a new era of collaboration building on the efforts of thousands of Chinese medical professionals who have worked with and built relationships in 40 African countries.
By Kristen Krebs and Tawina Clarke
“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.” This African proverb guided representatives from Africa and China at the 4th International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Cooperation in Gaborone, Botswana.
On May 6-7, the Gaborone Roundtable, which was held for the first time in Africa, was co-hosted by the Botswana Ministry of Health, China’s Institute for Global Health at Peking University and the China Ministry of Commerce. Chinese and African health ministry officials, academics, members of the private sector and representatives from international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Global Fund were brought together to discuss health issues, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal health and an important neglected tropical disease (NTD), schistosomiasis.
China and Africa have a history of working together on health issues, but also share a history of high NTD prevalence. Currently, schistosomiasis affects more than 200 million people worldwide, and it is estimated that at least 90 percent of those affected live in Africa. In the past, China also suffered greatly from schistosomiasis, with approximately 11.6 million people infected and more than 100 million people at risk in the 1950s. Since that time, China has successfully reduced the prevalence of schistosomiasis by more than 90 percent. The country has also eliminated lymphatic filariasis and greatly reduced other intestinal helminth infections.
China’s past success with their NTDs and health developments set a great example for initiatives to overcome the health challenges Africa faces. The Roundtable discussed ways in which China and Africa can form new mutually beneficial partnerships. China is committed to share its advanced research and development and health technologies that are safe and cost effective with Africa. In return, China can also learn from Africa – for example Africa’s advancement in AIDS treatment expansion.
The Roundtable concluded with eight major outcomes and conclusions to strengthen China-Africa health cooperation. These outcomes and the dialogue from the Roundtable will play an important role at the Health Ministerial Meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that will be held in August.
For the past five decades, China has been successful in controlling Sichuan at the end of 2004, however, schistosomiasis reemerged in seven counties where disease transmission was previously controlled.
Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease that is spread to humans by contact with snail-infested waters. These snails are infected with the parasite Schistosoma and live in fresh water. In Sichuan, China the disease was first documented in 1924; however, it wasn’t until 1985 that transmission control was achieved in 20 counties, then increased to 21 counties in 2001. Reemergence of schistosomiasis in seven of these counties may be attributable to sociopolitical, economic, environmental, and surveillance system changes, including:
- decreased funding for health workers
- decreased awareness of the issue among the local government and lack of coordination between government departments (public health, agricultural, husbandry departments, for example)
- increased establishment of snail habitats (creation of irrigation canals, for example)
- ineffective surveillance systems post-control of the disease
To regain control of schistosomiasis transmission, researchers call for a combination of chemotherapy, snail control, and improvements in sanitation. Increased funding in environmental modification and rural sanitation would also attribute to getting transmission under control.
Before solutions are implemented, however, several considerations must be taken into account. Transmission of the disease varies from area to area. In mountainous regions, snails infected with the Schistosoma reside in the irrigation canals on farms, which make farmers the most vulnerable population for contacting the disease. In other areas where the infected snails inhabit lakes and marshlands, bovine are largely responsible for transmission. Because of differing transmission cycles, it is important to develop solutions that are generalizable over a variety of regions. Also, looking toward inter-sectoral funding where resources can come from departments outside the ministry of health such as those that govern energy, water, agricultural, and animal resources will also help health officials regain control of schistosomiasis in Sichaun.
Happy Friday readers! End the week with the latest in global health and NTD news. Today were reading about:
Soap n Water, please: campaign aims to make handwashing a habit in China A battalion of more than 300 hungry elementary school students storm toward the dining hall, eager to get their hands on mantou,or steamed bread. Washing their hands prior is required by teachers, but with only eight hand-washing stations, the words are ignored by many, because evidently, appetite trumps cleanliness. But there are some students at Zhongxun Elementary School in Dancun Town, northwest Chinas Shaanxi province, realizing the importance of washing hands.
Sydney University health fund to fight disease in East Timor The University of Sydney has established a charitable fund which will collaborate with the countrys Ministry of Health, the National University of East Timor and the World Health Organisation to help improve health care in a range of areas. The relationships already exist but this new fund will channel money into new and ongoing projects, including a focus on three common and debilitating infections.
Jemma Kidd Speaks out About Unnecessary Blindness in Ethiopia and Launches the Jemma Kidd VISIONfund Moved and humbled by the fact that blinding diseases can be prevented for as little as 25p, founder of Jemma Kidd Make Up, Jemma Kidd, speaks out on the shocking reality that 10 million people in Ethiopia suffer from disease causing blindness and 100% needlessly so. During a recent trip to Ethiopia with sight-saving charity ORBIS, Jemma saw first-hand how a disease that is no longer prevalent in the West is devastating lives, leaving families and communities facing hardship, suffering and isolation, making every day a struggle to survive. Trachoma is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the eye, causing inflamed granulation on the inner surface of the lids. If left untreated, it can turn the eyelid inward, causing the eyelashes to scar the delicate cornea, resulting in agonising pain and permanent blindness.