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China, US leaders confront epidemic threat

Updated: 2015-05-13 11:33
By MAY ZHOU in Houston (China Daily USA)

How can China and the US work together to develop a global strategy that deploys tangible new actions -such as technology and educational programs - to avert human suffering and economic and social disruption that could result from bioterrorist threats or epidemics involving Ebola, influenza and other diseases?

These are the questions being addressed by the 6th George H.W. Bush China-US Relations Conference yesterday in Houston.

A panel of experts led by Andrew Natsios, director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs and executive professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, discussed the current problems and proposed some ideas on how to solve them.

Natsios pointed out that the world, including the US, is not yet prepared to respond to a pandemic like the 1918 influenza outbreak that killed 3-to-5 percent of the total population of the world. The recent outbreak of Ebola, even though under control now, proved that our current system would fail.

Nils Daulaire, senior visiting scholar on Global Health Security at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and former US Assistant Secretary of Health for Global Affairs, said that the international response to such events needs changes in three areas that US and China certainly can work together on: develop new technologies and vaccines to prevent infectious disease; prevent and respond to the spread of growing resistance to antibiotics; and set up an international operations center coordinating rapid deployment and action.

Liu Qian, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, discussed China's current infectious disease response system developed from experience dealing with SARS in 2003. He said that China now has a vast monitoring and reporting network to evaluate risk, identify sources of infection and take quick action for diagnosis, treatment and quarantine.

Other panel sessions discussed national strategy and the role of corporate programs in dealing with infectious disease on a global level. Other experts shared insights gained from dealing with the recent Ebola outbreak.

The conference also includedfour closed-door symposia to explore forging deeper collaboration on: how to work together for clean air, safe food and water; how to commercialize biotechnology; how to improve chronic health conditions; and how to combat tuberculosis with new techniques developed in both countries.

"Microbes respect no national boundaries, political affiliations or ethnicities," said Brett Giroir, CEO of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and the conference program chair. "Given today's global connectivity, an epidemic anywhere will rapidly become a threat everywhere. We hope the conference leads to tangible new actions that will substantially improve health and biosecurity around the world."

For a lot a people, the conference was testament to the fact that US-China relations have developed from bilateral to global.

"China has now emerged as a global economy,"said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. "Its remarkable economic development gives it global influence. Now the US and China, instead of being two parties on opposite sides, have come together to work on issues that have a global impact. This conference should be viewed in the light of that."

Xu Kuangdi, president of China-US People's Friendship Association, delivered the keynote speech during the opening ceremony. Praising Neil Bush for taking the torch passed by his father to further US-China relations, Xu also proposed establishing an international fund by leading countries such as China, the US and Russia to fight infectious disease around the globe.

Li Xiaolin, conference co-chair, president of Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, echoed Xu's proposal, saying that "China is willing to shoulder more responsibility for the world".

Li said that the conference, initiated by former president George W.H. Bush and first held in 2003 in Beijing, has evolved from general discussion of bilateral relations to specific issues. "We will discuss more global issues and how the US and China can play a leading role in the future," said Li.

"I thought it's outstanding that Xu would come to the conference and deliver the keynote speech. He also posed a challenge to us that we should form a fund to mobilize our resources. I am very confident that this is one of many ideas that will surface in next day and half – actionable items that will help us to cement the relationship between our two great countries and help the world," said Neil Bush.

"The greatest promotion of my father's interest in closer ties with China is not just talking about the importance of the relationship, but try to develop a sustained collaboration on various issues starting with infectious disease. We choose this because it's timely, there are no political barriers to collaboration," Bush added.

Houston MaysorAnnise Parker and Texas A&M President Michael Young also spoke at the opening. US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden expressed well-wishes to the conference through letter and video respectively.

The three-day conference, attended by an elite group of more than 400 physicians, scientists, policymakers, government officials and business leaders including Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, Chinese Consul General Li Qiangmin, and US Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden, will conclude Wednesday.


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