China's growing innovation capacity to play bigger role in global health
China was once a recipient of development aid, but now it is a major financial and technology contributor to global health.
[File Photo: VCG]
"China has done a very strong job of addressing health inequality and poverty over the past decades. What we'd like to see is the innovation of China not only continues to help with all the domestic things, but also benefits other developing countries," Bill Gates said Tuesday in an interview with Xinhua.
Gates, the co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said he has seen China successfully partner with the foundation to tackle domestic health and development challenges over the past decade.
In 2009, the Gates Foundation has collaborated with China on the launch of a joint tuberculosis (TB) control program to develop and demonstrate innovative control models that can help China further reduce the number of people who develop TB, particularly multidrug-resistant TB(MDR-TB).
The model involves integration with health systems, creative financing mechanisms and the use of new tools such as molecular diagnostics and medication monitors.
Piloted in the cities of Zhenjiang, Yichang and Hanzhong, the model had benefited about 14 million people by 2015, helping China meet its TB-related UN Millennium Development Goal - to reduce TB prevalence and mortality by half between 1990 and 2015 - five years ahead of target.
However, the challenges remain huge. The World Health Organization says China still has the third highest TB rate, with around 900,000 new cases each year. China also has a fifth of the world's MDR-TB cases, which are especially difficult and costly to treat.
A new collaborative program started in 2016 to scale up the model at provincial level and test innovations in information and communication technologies, such as updating the national TB information system and establishing an e-learning and certification system for TB-related healthcare providers.
The Grand Challenges China program, launched with the National Natural Science Foundation of China, has funded four projects focusing on innovative TB drug and vaccine research, as well as a structure-based HIV vaccine design.
Developing countries carry 90 percent of the world's communicable diseases burden. Gates said China's R&D investment and innovations could bring affordable drugs and health products to other developing countries and the disease surveillance system could be applied to other countries.
A report published in Globalization and Health in 2014 said China committed 3 billion U.S. dollars to 255 health, population, and water and sanitation projects in Africa between 2000 and 2012. It also built hospitals and malaria control centers, invested in medical equipment, provided anti-malarial treatment, and trained health care workers.
"China is listening to what these countries' priorities are. One of the foundation's missions in China is to motivate more Chinese innovators to contribute to the solution of severe public health challenges around the world," said Gates. "We're hopeful that China will engage in malaria elimination in a number of countries like in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa."