China and UHC in Africa
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Ebola crisis was a tragic awakening for people around the world about the crucial importance of strong health systems. The numbers are staggering. As a result of the virus — and the weak systems that were unable to contain it — more than 10,000 people have died in West Africa. The social impact of such a large-scale health crisis is incalculable, and the devastating economic fallout in the region will be felt for some time.
China played an early and significant role in responding to the crisis, and was among the first countries to send aid and medical workers to the region. As the world now reflects on how local and international partners and coalitions can together strengthen health systems and prevent the next outbreak, China will play an increasingly important role in the discussion.
China is working hard to build health systems capable of providing universal health coverage at home, pledging $125 billion to increase access to primary health care across the country. The government has committed to ensuring that all Chinese people are covered by health insurance, and is also undertaking reforms to ensure a safety net for the poorest.
Beyond its own borders, China has also been working to strengthen health systems across Africa, with a growing focus on supporting African countries as they work toward universal access to care.
China and Africa’s collaborative focus on UHC is novel, but also builds on a long history of Chinese health engagement in Africa. Since 1963, China has partnered with over 40 African countries to build health infrastructure, distribute Chinese health products and provide care through Chinese medical teams. Now, China is partnering with African governments to build their own capacity, focusing on technology transfers, pharmaceutical capacity around essential medicines and opportunities to train African health personnel. Given the flat or declining health aid budgets from traditional donors, China’s investments will be an essential part of achieving UHC across Africa.