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China rushes help to Ebola-hit countries

Updated: 2014-10-24 07:27
By Joseph Catanzaro and Chen Yingqun (China Daily Africa)

 China rushes help to Ebola-hit countries

Equipment and materials for a mobile laboratory from China arrive at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Xinhua

In April, the same month the aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres issued a dire warning about the unprecedented nature of the outbreak and a panicked mob attacked a treatment center in southeastern Guinea, China announced it would send its first shipment of medical supplies to West Africa, about a million yuan ($160,000) worth of medicine and equipment to help with disease control, prevention and treatment in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

This was even though a World Health Organization spokesman was quoted at the time as saying the outbreak was "relatively small still".

By May, when the first shipment of medical supplies from China arrived, the WHO had confirmed the first Ebola death in Sierra Leone. By June 17 the virus had reached the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Six days later, the death toll had risen to 350 and officially become the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

Medecins Sans Frontieres warnings became more urgent and it declared the virus "out of control".

In China, Africans were beginning to feel another symptom of the virus: the pain of loved ones lost.

Model and entertainer Mariatu Kargbo, a former Miss Sierra Leone who has become a prominent singer and philanthropist in China after making it her second home, was devastated when she learned that a good friend and fellow model from Liberia had died from the virus.

Bad news from home is becoming a tragically common story for many Africans in China, she says. And with 20,000 Chinese nationals said to be living in the three worst affected countries, the fear for loved ones is not confined to their community, either.

"There are so many people here who have lost loved ones and friends," Kargbo says. "It affects everyone from all walks of life."

That is a message she has been trying to drive home in China, and she says people are now listening.

Early on, Kargbo began fundraising for the World Food Program's drive to help Ebola-affected countries, and in two events she raised a total of $70,000. All donors were ordinary Chinese, she says.

"We have received a lot of support. In one way it is about SARS. Chinese people understand (what Africa is going through). But it's not just about SARS. It's cultural. The Chinese always like to help. And they want a good relationship with Africa."

Kargbo now hopes to make it into the Guinness World Records for getting the most people to donate to a charity online in the shortest time. She is now planning that event and is counting on the generosity of Chinese people.

"We are going to distribute a lot of bags of rice and medicine in Sierra Leone," she says. "The Chinese are really supportive. These are ordinary people who are giving money."

Ada Yang is a designer and artist from Sierra Leone who lives in Beijing with her Chinese husband, the artist Yang Yan.

Tears rolled down her face as she recalled the moment her mother told her Ebola had claimed the life of one of her friends back home. The pain became ever deeper when she heard a second friend had died, and a third, and a fourth.

"Now, six of my friends have died from the disease."

Yang and her husband have since channeled their pain to motivate their efforts to help. They have held several charity events in China that have garnered strong support from artists, companies and the public at large.

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