Synergy is needed for both Belt and Road partners and the world in healthcare

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A sub-forum titled Joint Construction of the "Silk Road of Health" takes place during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Boao, Hainan province, on April 18, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

As part of a coordinated response to lessen the impacts of COVID-19, a passport scheme could be implemented to promote collaboration among countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. Valerio De Molli, Managing Partner and CEO of The European House-Ambrosetti, an Italy-based think tank, made the proposal via video link on April 19 while attending a session during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, taking place in Boao, a coastal town in China's Hainan province. 

However, issuing such a passport, which allows people to prove they have had a vaccine when making international travels, is not an easy task and requires consideration to political and many other factors.  

Nevertheless, Jacques Pellet, personal envoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president for China and head of the ICRC Regional Delegation for East Asia, said countries need to work together to deal with COVID-19-related problems and strike a balance between the interests of individual nations and the international community.  

Call for action 

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, as of April 17, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide had surpassed 140 million and the death toll had surpassed 3 million. 

The international community is going through a difficult time due to the pandemic and there exist some weaknesses in the global health system that need to be addressed, said Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former Prime Minister of France. In a speech to the session via video link, he called on governments all over the world and international organizations to join hands to promote the sustainable development of global health cooperation. 

"Protecting humans is protecting our planet," Raffarin said. "We need have a shared vision on world health development... If you have no vision, you have no action."

The pandemic exposes the fragility of the international system and also highlights the importance of international cooperation, said another online participant, Dante Saksono Harbuwono, Vice Minister of Health of Indonesia.  

Researches indicate that healthcare might be a bottleneck that hampers Asia’s sustainable recovery from the pandemic. According to a report released by the BFA on April 18, a shortage of medical resources, including a lack of financial capacity and effective programs, is a huge obstacle for many Asian economies, and it is a daunting task to distribute vaccines with speed in such a populous continent. 

"COVID-19 is not the last pandemic," Harbuwono said, adding that the international community needs to focus more on healthcare and do more to prepare for the future possible pandemics. 

Community of health for all 

"Healthcare cooperation is an important part of the vision of a community with a shared future for humanity," Sun Kun, Dean of Xinhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, told Beijing Review. Through sending medical expert teams and sharing epidemic response experiences and tactics, China has consistently delivered its commitment to joint COVID-19 response with other countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative and the wider world. 

Globally, China has played an important leading role in responding to the pandemic, and regionally, it has carried out successful anti-COVID-19 collaboration with Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Harbuwono said. 

At this moment, with a manufacturing capacity of 5 million vaccine doses a day, China is accelerating vaccination of its population. Moreover, the country is also working to provide as many vaccine doses as possible to those countries in urgent need of them. It has joined the COVAX facility, a World Health Organization-led international initiative which aims to ensure equitable global access to vaccines, developing countries in particular.  

China is providing vaccine aid to 80 countries and three international organizations, exporting vaccines to more than 40 countries, and cooperating with more than 10 nations in vaccine research, development and production, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on March 30. 

The pandemic has underscored the importance of the Health Silk Road program, Zhang Yuhui, Deputy Director General of China National Health Development Research Center, said at the session. The program has been launched to protect public health security in Belt and Road partners, as well as the international community as a whole, and to promote the sustainable development of the healthcare sector. 

Zhang stressed that cooperation in innovation needs synergy between governments, adding that China is building the platforms essential for communication and sharing of experiences. 

Tech-driven solutions 

Technological developments in the fields such as 5G and artificial intelligence are helping break the restrictions of space and time. For example, with the help of 5G technology, a medical team in Beijing successfully performed eye surgeries on three patients 3,000 km away in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on March 26.  

Internationally, state-of-the-art technologies can extend medical cooperation and promote the development of health projects between countries. A China-Uzbekistan telemedicine system was established last year to carry out medical consultations and remote diagnoses of COVID-19, and share China's experience in fighting the pandemic. Doctors in China's Jiangxi province and their Uzbek counterparts were able to have real-time communication through the system. 

"In addition to facilitating remote diagnosis and surgery, new Internet applications can also help in training medical staff through online programs," Sun said. 

Playing a leading role in technological innovation, transnational medical enterprises are playing an important role in the development of the Health Silk Road. Wang Lei, Executive Vice President of AstraZeneca and President of International Business and China, told Beijing Review that using healthcare technology, transnational companies are better able to provide services for people and society.  

Wang said AstraZeneca also values technology sharing to improve healthcare worldwide, without considering much about the intellectual property. 

Belt and Road Initiative participating countries should have a common framework for the construction of infrastructure, provision of healthcare services and the identification of joint strategic projects, De Molli said. "Science knows no borders and knowledge belongs to all human beings."

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