April 21, 2016

Symposium on Global Health in China

"Contribute to strengthening global health through supporting the collaboration of China in the global health arena" is one of four strategic priorities of the World Health Organization's (WHO) collaboration with China as outlined in the China—WHO Country Cooperation Strategy. I have witnessed a number of initiatives over the past few years focused on China's increasing role as a major contributor in the global health arena. Given my personal and professional interests on global health, I appreciated having the opportunity to attend the "Symposium on Global Health in China: Harnessing the Power of Universities" at the University of Washington in Seattle. This post addresses a few points made during the symposium that took place from April 5-6, 2016.

It their welcoming letter, Judy Wasserheit and Stephen Gloyd, co-chairs of the symposium, wrote: "The symposium goals is to create a forum to help define future directions for academic global health in China, and to discuss how best to facilitate university collaborations with institutions from both high and low income countries." Drs. Wasserheit and Gloyd continue to explain that "the symposium will provide our Chinese university colleagues with an opportunity to meet a wide, interdisciplinary array of faculty, students, and other stakeholders to strategically plan for future collaborations."

I was surprised to learn about China's long history of sending medical aid teams to over 60 countries and regions, with most teams being sent to Africa. In his keynote speech, "Emergence of Global Health in China: Prospects and Implications," Lincoln Chen, President of the China Medical Board, noted the first China Medical Team (CMT) was sent to Algeria in 1963.

Regarding its domestic market, Dr. Chen said, "China has increasingly equitable care that can provide a model for the developing world." However, while China is making progress in modernizing its domestic healthcare system, the speed of such progress is slow. "China is still evolving from a Soviet-style medical system to a Western-style system."

He also remarked that China "is intellectually engaged in global health issues" and as a global economic power, the world's most populous country "wants to contribute more, which shows it is taking up its responsibilities as a global power."

During the plenary panel titled "Global Health in the Chinese Context," panelists discussed how global health is defined, what global health means in the context of activities supported by China, and how Chinese universities contribute to this global effort. In remarks made by Yinou Li, Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's China office, Dr. Li noted that China has made progress in certain areas such as reducing tobacco use through restrictions on tobacco advertising and banning indoor smoking. Moreover, she provided some insights on collaborative efforts by the Chinese government, health organizations, and universities to create advocacy campaigns in support of tobacco control measures and social marketing campaigns that aim to educate people and change attitudes about tobacco use (namely, making smoking socially unacceptable and unappealing). Success in this area could serve as a model for other emerging or developing countries.

On the topic of eradicating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, the Gates Foundation says, "According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1 million people develop tuberculosis (TB) in China each year—more than in any other country except India. In addition to a high burden of the disease, China has about one-fifth of the world's cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), which is especially difficult and costly to treat." Dr. Li noted that a majority of funding by the Gates Foundation in China is allocated to supporting the efforts of the Chinese government. For example, the Gates Foundation's website explains its support of a grant to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, which focused on "developing and demonstrating innovative TB-control models that can help China further reduce the number of patients who develop TB, and particularly MDR-TB."

The Gates Foundation is also helping China control its HIV epidemic by "reaching high-risk groups with prevention programs and accurate information, testing, and efficient and effective treatment programs." This has been done, according to the Seattle, Wash.-based organization's web page on combating HIV in China, through financially supporting "the Chinese government and community organizations on a program to expand HIV prevention (through testing and interventions) among those most at risk of infection and to provide care and treatment to those infected. In some program cities, more than half of all newly detected cases were identified through our collaboration with community organizations." Again, if done efficiently and effectively, China's efforts of reducing tobacco use, eliminating TB, and controlling HIV could serve as a model in other emerging or developing countries.

In the plenary panel, "Chinese University Partnerships with Low and Middle Income Countries," panelists talked about China's efforts in improving its bilateral health cooperation and greater participation in global health work and governance. Feng Cheng, Professor and Chief Physician, Research Center for Public Health and School of Medicine at Tsinghua University said expanding partnership opportunities will facilitate the development of health technologies and quality products to contribute to global health. Such partnerships will help transfer appropriate health technologies between Chinese universities and low and middle income countries with the aim to improve global health outcomes.

I want to express my appreciation to the symposium's co-chairs, planning committee members, and organizers. While I am not a member of the academic community, I found great value in attending this symposium to learn more the benefits through the collaboration among Chinese and American universities. I plan to learn from these lessons and apply them to the efforts my colleagues and I at ROI3, Inc. are developing to promote health and wellness in emerging and developing countries through localized mobile software solutions designed for smartphones and tablets.

Aaron Rose serves as President and CEO of ROI3, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based company that empowers people in emerging economies through innovative, technology-based solutions. He is also the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

1 comment:

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