China refutes US claims of ‘stealing Africa’s genomic data’

Washington had reportedly cited concern over China’s ‘scientific spying program’

Xinhua February 07, 2020
Chinese doctor Li Xiushan checks the eyes of a boy at the Ethio-China Friendship Hospital, located in Akaki at the outskirts of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aug. 17, 2018. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING: China on Friday refuted the comments of a US official on China’s public health support to Africa, calling the comments "ridiculous", according to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

According to reports, a US official said Washington has cited concern over China’s “scientific spying programme” as the reason it wants to block China’s plan to help build the headquarters of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and said China was hoping to "steal Africa's genomic data" through the construction of the Africa CDC HQ.

“It’s a threat to Africa. Africa has vast amounts of genomic data and the Chinese want to build the CDC to eventually steal the data from all the other centres,” an administration official told the Financial Times, referring to five regional Africa CDC hubs, some of which were built by the US. Based in Egypt, Nigeria, Gabon, Kenya and Zambia, they handle high-risk viruses, health crises, research and data collection.

"This is just as ridiculous as the recent allegations by the US side that China is building the African Union conference center to steal their data," spokesperson Hua Chunying said at an online news briefing, adding it shows some people in the United States consistently use their own mindset to think of others.

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She said the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic had revealed the poor condition of Africa's public health system, and Africa hoped that the international community would help it build the Africa CDC.

In 2015, China started helping Africa with its public health security system and capacity building. In 2016, China and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding on jointly supporting the Africa CDC, and the two sides agreed to jointly support the building of the Africa CDC and strengthen Africa's public health capacity in accordance with the principle that the initiative is proposed, agreed to and led by Africa. Both China and the United States have public health experts working as consultants at the headquarters for technical support.

The health sector is an important area in China-Africa cooperation, Hua said, adding that China has sent medical teams of 21,000 members to Africa and has treated 220 million African patients. Some Chinese doctors even sacrificed their lives in Africa. They are deeply respected by local people.

Hua said the United States and some other Western countries closed their embassies and evacuated diplomats and citizens from three West African countries after the Ebola epidemic outbreak in March 2014. The Chinese government helped Africa at the earliest stage, sending not only urgently needed supplies but also medical teams of over 1,000 military and civilian doctors to the most severely stricken areas.

"Chinese diplomats and medical experts chose to stay. They fought together with local people until the virus was defeated," Hua said.

"At this critical moment in fighting the novel coronavirus, many African governments and people have also expressed their support for China," said the spokesperson, stressing that China-Africa friendship cannot be shaken by a few individuals distorting the truth.

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