China’s Medical Assistance to Africa

Jul 15, 2020 in Medicine Essay

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Chinese-African relations have a long and time-honored history, which is marked by periods of both recession and quick recovery. Since the beginning of this century, these relations have gone through a special stage, energetic and multi-faceted development. Along with the economic and financial support, China provides medical assistance to African countries. There is a need to study the features and concepts of Chinese medical aid as there is a great concern about the primary goals of China’s presence in Africa. Despite certain difficulties that are associated with a negative perception of Chinese aid to the African continent, Chinese government contributes to the improvement of African healthcare system, supplies it with medicaments, trains medical staff, and builds hospitals. Therefore, it is significant to study all of the aspects of Chinese medical assistance to Africa and understand the importance and effects of the aid.

Keywords: China, Africa, medicine, assistance.

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China’s Medical Assistance to Africa


The growing interest of the world to the African state, including Sub-Saharan Africa, is explained by the desire to gain access to the mineral resources of the region and to diversify oil supplies. In the recent years, the spread of Chinese influence across the world has received much attention. Since the beginning of the process of decolonization in Africa and Asia, China has been aware of the growing role of developing countries in international relations, and has strived to reach self-assertion as a friend, potential leader and guide throughout the developing world. The Chinese capital and diplomacy are activated even in the regions that are considered to be minor and unattractive to investors. A great concern is raised over China's expansion in the African continent, where China is positioning itself not as a power that claims to be a global leader, but as an assistant in terms of the development of the poorest countries. China focuses on the social orientation of economic expansion, writes off debts, creates irrigation systems, builds hospitals, expands African education programs in Chinese universities and trains African doctors. Striving to spread its influence and power, China provides medical assistance to Africa, which significantly contributes to the development of the African healthcare system.

Causes of Chinese Interference in Africa’s Affairs

The reason for the Chinese expansion on the continent is sometimes considered to be the growing political ambitions of Beijing. However, at the political level only, the African countries are not of interest for China. The priority of foreign policy of Beijing is the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and Central Asia.

According to Sun, “China’s policy toward Africa is pragmatic”. He thinks that the growing interest of developed countries in Africa is caused primarily by the need for raw materials. The region is rich in platinum, diamonds, manganese, and bauxite. In Africa, there are large gas and oil-producing countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, and Sudan. In the recent years, with the discovery of oil on a strip along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, Africa's role in the world oil production has increased dramatically. China is also interested in importing chromium and platinum group metals, buying copper, industrial diamonds, mica, zinc, lead, titanium, zirconium, uranium and bauxite from Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is rich in human and natural resources. The continent as a whole has a great economic potential and is therefore of the long-term political significance for China. The expanding trade and capital flows create a favorable business climate, which allows eliminating any barriers to trade and economic exchanges between China and African countries (Sun). Chinese government seeks to eliminate tariff barriers to the U.S. producers, and contribute to the creation of free trade zones of American goods in these countries.

China’s Challenges

The growth of China's influence in Africa is a growing concern for traditional actors on the African scene. Despite the crucial medical assistance, African countries express complaints against China. They complain that in the pursuit of resources China condemns Africa of taking the role of a raw materials appendage of its rapidly growing economy (Grepin et al.). The influx of cheap imports of China hinders Africa to develop its own industry, interfering with the process of its industrialization (Schiere et al. 1). Africans are dissatisfied with the fact that most of the professionals come from China. Although China's interest in the natural resources of the continent is beyond doubt, China is doing a lot to the African healthcare system. “Chinese officials claimed that they offered medical assistance to Africa to improve health of African people and that their motives were primarily humanitarian” (Wang and Sun). China not only changed the traditional system of medicine in Africa, but also created new opportunities for African healthcare system. Africa owes much to this country. Banik emphasizes that despite the financial crisis and the challenges that are faced by China’s economy, the Chinese government will honor its commitments and promises but never the assistance (9). Moreover, Chinese interest in Africa is explained by its partnership with the UN Security Council. “Peaceful and stable Africa is vital to the peace of the world, and without the development of Africa, there will be no common prosperity” (Banik 9). Such responsibility includes the pursuit of peace and overall prosperity.

In my view, growing economic assistance, trade and investment boom, as well as the protection of African interests by world organizations made China an appealing alternative to the West. China's success is explained by the fact that it does not determine the change in the policy of the country, respect for democratic norms and human rights. Chinese companies are supported by the PRC government, which does not interfere with their investment activities, but provides them with financial and diplomatic aid (Grepin et al.). The rapprochement with China has opened up new policies to African leaders to legitimize their regimes. China unswervingly follows the five principles of peaceful co-existence, according to which sovereignty is the highest value and a prerequisite for stability and development. The position of China regarding human rights is equally important.

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Medical Aid to Africa

As a way to reduce poverty in Africa, the extension of the scope of China-Africa cooperation in the field of medicine is suggested. The strength of the Chinese policy in Africa is its humanitarian component (Lancaster 1). I think that the health assistance should be at the first place. The number of individuals, who receive antiretroviral therapy, has increased. The countries in Africa need the help of volunteers. The work in most of them is a completely new and unique experience because of the cultural identity of these countries. Many voluntary organizations offer programs in different regions of Africa. A number of organizations send a great number of volunteers to African countries. Volunteers can work in hospitals, orphanages, newspapers, schools, sports clubs, and veterinary clinics.

Chinese medical teams work in African continent (Xiaolin et al. 91). Moreover, Africa is a leader in the number of Chinese medical teams. Xiaolin et al. emphasize that “the Chinese medical teams sent to Africa account for two-thirds of the total sent by the Chinese government” (92). The first medical team was sent to Africa at the request of the Algerian government (Wang and Sun). Since that time, China’s medical assistance to Africa has amplified essentially in regard to the anti-malaria campaigns, medical teams, medical training, as well as financial help to hospitals (Hanauer and Morris 79). Generally, Chinese government views medical help as a crucial component of China-Africa relations.

The work of Chinese health professionals in Africa is explained by the popularity of Chinese economic assistance. Chinese doctors have to work in extremely difficult conditions. There are cases when they get sick and die of tropical diseases. Chinese doctors work in remote areas, being often deprived of the means of transport and communication in harsh climatic conditions. Despite these difficulties, Chinese doctors have helped millions of the patients and saved the lives of numerous people. They did heart surgery, removed tumor, made blood transfusions in terms of not only the advances in modern medicine, but also the experience of traditional Chinese medicine, particularly in the field of acupuncture and massage. At the same time, they were awarded by the thanks of the public and governments. China's Ministry of Health is sponsoring and financing the exchange of visits at the ministerial level. According to Hanauer and Morris, “the Chinese government had given 5.3 billion renminbi (roughly $864 million) in medical aid over the past five years” (79).

At the same time, with the direction of the experts, China sends medical equipment and medicines to African countries. Moreover, China contributes to building medical centers that are served mainly by Chinese experts. The program of cooperation of China and Africa in the field of healthcare includes the construction of the hospitals and clinics in the countries (Schiere et al. 110). In particular, China has committed itself to financing the construction of the cardiology center in Tanzania, where the residents had to travel to South Africa or India for the treatment of heart diseases.

China educates Africans in technical and medical majors in universities, providing them with scholarships to study in China. China also organizes training of African medical personnel (Hanauer and Morris 81). The Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy organized the Sino-African Forum on Traditional Medicine and Pharmacy, which was attended by the representatives of African countries. The forum has developed a strategy and outlined the prospects for joint research in this area.

China carries out cooperation with African countries in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases (Hanauer and Morris 80). China began to assist Africa in the fight against malaria. Chinese doctors’ teams were sent to Tanzania, Mauritania, Mali and other countries. They helped local hospitals to diagnose and treat malaria, and trained local experts about the prevention of this disease. China's Ministry of Health had organized training courses in treatment techniques and prevention of malaria and tropical diseases, in which students from African countries were trained.

There is a strong cooperation between China and Tanzania in the treatment of HIV infection. The program of cooperation included the treatment of patients with HIV-AIDS by the methods of traditional Chinese medicine. The experience has shown the effectiveness of this method in the treatment of HIV infection. Later, China and Africa initiated the second stage of co-operation aimed at finding more efficient and cost-effective methods of treatment of this disease. As a result of consulting and testing, it was possible to prevent the transmission of the infection to children from their infected mothers.

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In conclusion, China has become an integral part of the life of African continent. The results of the development of Sino-African relations continue to impress. It is difficult to find an African country, in which China is not involved. The behavior of the Chinese in Africa has increasingly drawn criticism and accusations of neo-colonialism. The main claims are that the Chinese companies just deplete the resources of African countries, taking advantage of the weakness of local elites. The desire to gain access to the sources of raw materials, and find the scope of investment applications and markets for the booming industry is the main motive of China's expansion, which was marked in the twenty-first century. Chinese interest in Africa is related to an increased role of Africa in the world economy and international relations. As for me, China provides a wide range of medical assistance to African countries. Healthcare is the major priority of Chinese efforts. The assistance of China includes building hospitals, creating centers for the prevention and treatment of malaria, supplying Africa with medical equipment and drugs, sending health professionals and volunteers, training medical personnel, conducting scientific research and experiments, and organizing forums, conferences and seminars on health issues. In my view, all these ways of improving African healthcare system are crucial for Africa. Having analyzed the issue of Chinese aid to Africa, I think that despite various motives, China’s presence in Africa contributes to the development of medicine on the continent. Thus, it is important to strengthen further the cooperation between Africa and China. 

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