Your Excellency, Ms Lui Yandong, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China;
Your Excellency , Dr Joe Phaahla, Deputy Minister of Health,
Your Excellency, Ms Lin Bin, Minister of Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China;
Your Excellencies, Ministers of Health from the African Continent and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests from International and Regional Organisations;
Distinguished Delegations, ladies and gentlemen
At the outset, let me take this opportunity on behalf of the Government and People of South Africa, to extend a warm and sincere welcome to the City of Tshwane for China-Africa Ministers Conference. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience on this Conference, namely: China-Africa’s Cooperation in Health - From Commitment to Action.
South Africa attaches great importance to the close and cordial relations of friendship and mutually beneficial co-operation between the Peoples Republic of China, Africa and its peoples. Ours are tried and tested relations that hold great opportunities for the future for the People’s Republic of China and Africa. I also wish to thank our guests and friends from China who always spare time to be with us. The Governments and people of Africa will never forget the valuable support that China has provided over many years.
The relations between the Peoples Republic of China, Africa and its peoples is underpinned by our similar values and principles that are informed by our commitment to a partnership that will advance Peoples Republic of China and African development priorities; a commitment to human health security globally; the primacy of the role of the international law; as well as the importance of the role of the United Nations in global health governance. We also share a common view that multilateralism and rules-based global health governance mechanism is the best guarantor of stability and prosperity for all, and provides a better framework for asserting our values and interests.
Excellencies and Distinguishes Guests,
If there is one area that vividly sums up Africa’s development challenges, it is the field of health. Every year, lack of access to basic health care, mostly caused by poor funding, contributes to millions of deaths, untold suffering and harrowing health tragedies on the continent. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Africa carries 25% of the world’s disease burden but its share of global health expenditures is less than 1%. Worse still, it manufactures only a fraction—less than 2%—of the medicines consumed in the continent. A majority of Africans, mostly the poor and those in the middle-income bracket, rely on under-funded public health facilities while a small minority has access to well-funded, quality private health care.
For a long time since our independence, Africa was inexorably sucked downwards into the whirlpool of poverty, disease, despair and ignorance. We became the Continent that others derisively referred to as “The Hopeless Continent”. However, in the last decade or so, the tide started to change as Africa has begun to rebrand itself and has transformed its image as the next frontier for development and prosperity. There are a few bright spots in fighting some diseases. For example, Africa is finally making headway in the fight against malaria, the leading cause of deaths in the region.
WHO announced last year (the year 2016) that the global incidence of malaria had finally been slowed, largely due to a massive rollout of mosquito nets, anti-malaria medicines and use of insecticides. Furthermore, over the past decade, thanks to heightened emphasis on prevention, treatment and care, the rate of new HIV infections is slowing down as more infected people are receiving antiretroviral drugs. This progress has also been expressed in terms of the expanding realm of peace and stability, the growth and consolidation of democracy, good governance, human rights and respect for the rule of law, as well as economic growth.
Destiny has brought us to this crossroad where we as Africans can no longer afford the time for missed opportunities nor the luxury of multiple choices. We must move only in one direction —and that is upwards! And we must do so with the resolute determination to succeed. We should not, however, be lured into laxity and a false sense of comfort. We are still far from reaching the commanding heights. Our Continent is still blighted by conflicts; poverty is still widespread; disease and our youth remain unemployed. Many of our people, who out of despair, continue to cross dangerous seas in search of opportunity in other continents.
There is much to do and no time to waste. That is why during this Ministerial Conference, Africa, in partnership with Peoples Republic of China, must come up with practical solutions to implement the commitments in Health Cooperation made during the 2nd FOCAC Health Ministerial Meeting held in 2015. We have to put this partnership towards self-propelled, sustainable and irreversible progress. We must decide on how to finance our own development, using our own resources. We must move forward to implement some of our flagship projects, including the production of generic drugs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; strengthening of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC) and the five Regional Collaborating Centres and strengthening of a dedicated China-Africa Human Resources for Health program to address Africa’s human capital challenges.
As we mark this important Day, it is necessary to reflect on this theme of this Ministerial Conference, aptly coined as “China-Africa’s Cooperation in Health - From Commitment to Action”. The choice of the theme is quite deliberate and revealing. As we meet today, it is indeed a great opportunity for us, the Africa continent; we should use this priced occasion to reflect on our aspirations as reflected in the “African Union Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want”. African Union Agenda 2063 reflect a aspirations by us to improve the livelihoods of the peoples of Africa, through the rapid eradication of hunger, poverty and disease. These aspirations clearly demonstrate that there are opportunities for African countries and China to strengthen unity and cooperation in the areas of health for the betterment of our populations.
Furthermore, as we meet today new diseases have emerged at unprecedented rates, while old diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis have made aggressive comebacks. Antimicrobial resistance, meanwhile, is already killing upwards of 700 000 people worldwide every year. Transnational food production means industrial oversights can compromise the health of millions worldwide, while international trade and travel has the capacity to vastly accelerate a pathogen’s spread.
Alongside these phenomena, climate change and mass urbanisation have gathered pace, with significant consequences for the way each one of us lives. You will recall the world-wide panic that followed the Ebola outbreak, the huge economic and societal havoc that Ebola has caused in the Africa region. In the spirit of Ubuntu and solidarity, African Union established the Africa Support to Ebola in West Africa (ASEOWA) as a dedicated mechanism through which to coordinate all assistance efforts in the fight against Ebola.
Therefore, strong health systems provide the most effective means to contain and eradicate the infectious diseases of old, and provide the first line of defense against emerging diseases of pandemic potential. The Sustainable Development Goals emphasize the importance of achieving universal health coverage. The 2015 Sendai Framework makes explicit the need for strong and resilient health systems to protect against all hazards Hence there is a need for Africa and China to build mechanisms for strengthening health security and achieve IHR compliance.
Excellencies and Distinguishes Guests,
We must be conscious of the responsibility which accompanies this and work to ensure that the greatest outcomes for public health are pursued with vigor and clear-headed resolve. Together we have the opportunity to hardwire altruism into the global system and make people’s health central to international affairs. History is on our side, ladies and gentlemen, but we must harness its force wisely.
With this in mind, I wish you a productive and engaging conference.
Thank you very much.