The International Roundtable on China-Africa Health Collaboration was part of an ongoing effort by Government of China to develop a new strategy for health assistance to Africa as part of its overall South-South collaboration. To help inform this process, the Chinese authorities requested assistance from the World Bank and other international organizations in gaining a deeper understanding of Africa's health system needs, dynamics, and performance, as well as lessons from international experience in delivery of health assistance to Africa.
As a contribution to the Roundtable, the World Bank prepared background papers on Reaching the Health MDGs in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, to illustrate the health challenges in Africa and what it may take to solve their problems, and on "Learning through Collaboration - Lessons from China Health Projects Supported by the World Bank" to identify achievements in China which may offer lessons for improving health in Africa.
The Bank's participation and support for the Roundtable involved drew on the expertise of a Bank-wide team comprised of staff from World Bank Institute and from the East Asia & Pacific and Africa Regions. In preparing the background papers and recommendations, the core team also consulted with a group of external experts and with the Bank's Global Expert Team on Health Systems.
Kihiko Nishio, Director of Operations of the World Bank Institute noted in his opening remarks, "The World Bank is honored to have been invited by the Government of China to share our experience with health sector assistance in both China and Africa. I believe that it is precisely through exchanges such as this one, involving relevant Chinese government stakeholders, academic experts, African health officials, and representatives of international partners, that we can begin to work together effectively to achieve our shared objectives of meeting the health-related Millennium Development Goals in African countries".
Eva Jarawan, World Bank Health Sector Manager for Africa delivered a presentation on "Meeting Africa's Health Care Needs - Lessons from World Bank Project Experience and Implications for China's Role". She noted that China's success in improving health care provides a positive example for other developing countries. "China's experience shows that improved health outcomes are not merely a by-product of economic growth, but rather, that policies really do matter. China has shown that where there is broad and lasting political commitment and consistent emphasis on preventative measures, affordable drugs, and attention to delivering service to even the remotest parts of the country, large improvements can be achieved."
Several speakers noted with appreciation China's history, of more than four decades, in provision of health assistance to Africa. Ministry of Health officials noted that since 1963, more than 17,000 Chinese medical teams had served in Africa, covering 47 countries.
A key message, emphasized by representatives of international organizations, African officials, and Chinese officials alike, is the importance of strong country ownership, on the one hand, and benefits of working through partnership, on the other. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopian Minister of Health and Chair of the Global Fund to Fight AID Tuberculosis and Malaria, described his country's experience in working under the framework of the International Health Partnership, with its reliance on supporting Ethiopia's national health development plan. He noted that "it is through ownership that you can generate commitment, and with commitment begin to see results". He also noted an African proverb, which was quoted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao in his speech at the recent Forum on China Africa Cooperation, and which says "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together".
Dr. Ren Minghui, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation, Chinese Ministry of Health noted that "we do need coordination, we do need harmonization, and we do need collaboration to support health in Africa, but always remembering that it must be the African countries who are in the drivers' seat".
The second day of the Roundtable featured a lively discussion on opportunities and next steps for collaboration between China and other partners in delivery of health assistance to Africa. The Ministry of Health and the participating international partners agreed to explore various types of collaboration aimed to strengthening China's existing capacity in health assistance initially including staff secondments, joint missions, and pilot projects under a multi-partite framework.
The Roundtable was organized by the Institute for Global Health, Peking University, and was co-sponsored by the World Bank, China's Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It brought together senior officials with responsibility for China-Africa cooperation from the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs, and Commerce, as well as researchers and academic experts on China-Africa relations. They were joined by senior health officials from Africa and experts from the World Bank, WHO, the UK Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.