The headline for this week's Ministerial Forum on China-Africa Health Development is clear: Solidarity on global health is essential and imperative. It is value for money. It saves lives. The commitment by Chinese leaders, and more than 30 ministers of health from African countries, representatives of businesses, civil society and academics, demonstrates that working together to ensure universal access to healthcare sets a new stage for South-South cooperation.
Economic growth in China and Africa, spurred by bilateral trade and cooperation, has improved the lives of people and lifted millions out of poverty. Investments in healthcare and education have increased all around, but inequalities remain both in Africa and China. So the unfinished agenda of the UN's Millennium Development Goals have to be completed in Africa as well as in China.
China and Africa are in a unique position to leverage their business and trade relationship to encourage breakthrough progress in healthcare. Trade between China and Africa is projected to reach $385 billion a year by 2015. To capitalize on this, China's State-owned enterprises should be encouraged to invest in and promote healthcare in Africa. Since seven of the world's 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa, Chinese investments in the healthcare sector in the continent can produce substantial financial gains as well as generate invaluable public goods.
Take for example the AIDS epidemic. Leadership has been pivotal in transforming the response to HIV/AIDS. China's response to HIV/AIDS, with firm support of its State leaders, has ensured that its spread does not spiral out of control, as many had feared.
Similarly, presidents and heads of states of African countries have acted decisively over the past decade to halt, and even reverse, the spread of HIV/AIDS by making treatment more easily accessible to people. Leaders both in China and Africa have used scientific and advanced methods to tackle the disease and have been committed to respecting the dignity of the people living with HIV/AIDS.
China, for example, has introduced the harm-reduction programs for people who inject drugs - effectively halting the spread of HIV among drug users. And African countries have made it easier for people to access antiretroviral medicines despite the challenges facing their healthcare systems. Today, more than 7.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS are on lifesaving antiretroviral medicines in Africa, and about 3.5 million lives have been saved. The majority of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in these medicines are produced in China. As Africa builds its capacity to indigenously produce its essential medicines and diagnostic capabilities, access to quality APIs and raw materials from China could go a long way in ensuring viability and sustainability of manufacturing medicines in the continent.