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Rethinking about South-South cooperation

Photo Caption: (From Left to Right): Edward Ye, Mr. Alie Brima Tia (Director, Sierra Leone Friendship Biosafety Laboratory, Ministry of Health Sanitation – Sierra Leone), Ms. Doris Edna Fatmata Harding (Manager, Public Health Laboratories, Ministry of Health Sanitation – Sierra Leone), Mr. Michael Karim Abdulai (Technical Officer, Sierra Leone Friendship Biosafety Laboratory, Ministry of Health Sanitation – Sierra Leone), Ms. Wang Lili (Center for Global Public Health, China CDC)

Edward recently had the precious opportunity to attend a high-level bilateral meeting between China CDC, and the Ministry of Health, and Sanitation, Sierra Leone. During the meetings, I learned how foreign aid, and bilateral ties between China can relate to health systems, while experiencing international diplomacy, and health governance in general, and while realizing why South-South cooperation is crucial. While health systems in Hong Kong might have constant electricity supply to ensure people can get their treatments needed, including ventilation machines, and have constant access to testing reagents, we cannot say the same for Sierra Leone. During all the high-level meetings, I noticed that resource scarcity is a significant problem for Sierra Leone, where medicines, and scientific kits are not always readily available. Thankfully, after three rounds of negotiations between the high-level ministers across various branches of the China CDC, including the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases in Shanghai, and the Global Public Health Centre in Beijing, the Sierra Leoneans received testing capacities, and the health aid they needed.

Despite the tight schedule, and the countless challenges that my supervisor and I followed, I found this bilateral meeting to be very meaningful, while challenged my stereotypes against China, and Africa. For instance, when the representatives from Sierra Leone ministry of health, and China CDC Sierra Leone branch arrived, their luggage went missing, in turn, I was the only link between my supervisor, manager, and them. This experience, despite challenged my patience, my role as an intermediary ensured that all the slides, and the meeting agenda went on schedule, while I took Ms. Doris, a representative from the Ministry of Health to go shopping to ensure that she looked tip-top during these meetings. Likewise, I made sure that all the presentation technology was working, while taking care of Ms. Doris, who was incapacitated during the time of meeting. These hidden aspects of diplomacy, and my role as an intern, broadened my perspective, and deepened my understanding about South-South cooperation, and infectious diseases. While I learned about the broader scope of global south health governance, how much resources that Sierra Leone is currently lacking, the negotiations between the Gates Foundation, for providing money to CDC, and Sierra Leone, these minute details encouraged my self-growth. In this case, I learnt how to be more inclusive, empathetic for other people, while broadening my perspective, and breaking down my previous stereotypes about Africans, as they were very cost-conscious and efficient in developing their healthcare agenda. Thus, this bilateral meeting, which took place in Shanghai, and Beijing was an eye-opener in global health governance, between Sierra Leone, and China. Likewise, working alongside individuals from a diverse community, including Togo, Sierra Leone, and Chinese professionals made me realize how diverse China is, and highlights why, and how Chinese foreign aid is benefitting developing countries, while contributing to better health amongst developing nations for people to live better lives.

I believe that if China can lead the example for providing health aid to Sierra Leone, in a sustainable, non-paternalistic way for improving their health outcomes, these communities would be in a better state of health, with all the resources they need. Likewise, I noticed that cross-sector collaboration in development, inclusive of the power departments, working with the health, and natural resources sector is imperative for countries, like Sierra Leone to develop, since global health issues do not respect disciplines. By engaging in discussions on infectious diseases, health, and development with the Global South, I am grateful for the plentiful health resources that we have in Hong Kong.

------- Edward Ye Placement Site: China CDC, Beijing


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