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Coronavirus aid: Chinese medical teams arrive in Africa to mixed reactions

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 6 April – 10 April

By Eric Olander
Posted on Monday, 6 April 2020 16:21

Virus Outbreak Ethiopia Africa
A cargo flight containing over 6 million medical items including face masks, test kits, face shields and protective suits arrives in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Sunday, March 22, 2020. The supplies arriving from Guangzhou, China for fighting the spread in Africa of the COVID-19. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

China is boosting its COVID-19 aid efforts in Africa by sending medical teams to various countries and also connecting local health providers across the continent with infectious disease experts back in China.

The deployment of medical personnel to countries like Algeria and, soon, Nigeria, is part of a larger global initiative to send Chinese medical experts to Europe, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf among other regions.

In Africa, the use of medical personnel is an evolution of Beijing’s relief efforts on the continent. These initially focused exclusively on the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies — including government-to-government support and philanthropic gifts like the recent PPE donation by the Jack Ma Foundation.

READ MORE: Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Paul Pogba mobilise against coronavirus in Africa

Chinese Medical Experts Arrive in Africa

ALGERIA: Last month, Algeria was the first African country to receive Chinese medical experts when a 13-member team joined a relief flight carrying PPE and other medical supplies including badly-needed respirators. China is also expected to build a small hospital in Algeria that will be used for preventive care for an estimated 5,000 Algerians and 4,000 Chinese employed by a Chinese engineering company in the country.

NIGERIA: The Nigerian government announced on 3 April that an 18-member Chinese medical team including doctors, nurses and other medical advisers will arrive this week along with a plane-load of additional PPE.  Nigeria, to date, has 190 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

It’s interesting to note that in both the Algerian and Nigerian cases, the cost of the PPE and medical personnel is not being underwritten by the central Chinese government but instead by Chinese state-owned enterprises that currently operate in the two countries.

In Algeria, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation is paying for this latest relief operation and in Nigeria, Health Minister Osagie Enahire said “a group of Chinese companies working in Nigeria” is taking care of the costs.

This follows a similar approach in Zimbabwe where Chinese businesses donated half a million dollars to refurbish Wilkins Hospital, the country’s primary COVID-19 treatment center.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe is among African states least ready to tackle coronavirus

Impending Arrival of Chinese Medical Teams in Nigeria Provokes Backlash

The Federal Government is coming under blistering criticism from medical and other professional associations in Nigeria who are steadfastly opposed to Health Minister Osagie Ehanire’s decision to invite an 18-member medical team from China to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

We are therefore profoundly dismayed to learn that the Federal Government is instead inviting the Chinese who from available accounts are not out of the woods themselves…

These professional associations representing doctors and other medical professionals insist that this kind of aid from China is unnecessary at this time and is demoralizing to the country’s frontline healthcare professionals who have, in their view, done well in containing the virus and feel that it is demeaning for foreign experts to be brought in to assist.

The Director-General of the National Orientation Agency, Dr. Garba Abari, tried to calm the uproar over the weekend by

Director-General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari tried to assuage  concerns by explaining that the Chinese team will not assume control of the fight against the pandemic in Nigeria, as many suspect and instead will be there only to advise.

NIGERIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: “We are therefore profoundly dismayed to learn that the Federal Government is instead inviting the Chinese who from available accounts are not out of the woods themselves… It is a great disservice to the morale of the long-suffering frontline health workforce if the government goes ahead to invite these Chinese doctors.”

NIGERIAN ASSOCIATION OF RESIDENT DOCTORS:  “The attempt to import Human resources for Health from China into Nigeria where many qualified medical doctors and other cadres of health workers are yet to be gainfully employed is the height of insensitivity and disservice on the part of the Federal Government and their advisers.”

TRADE UNION CONGRESS OF NIGERIA: “Truly the Chinese authorities have done well by not recording more cases in their country. It is novel and also shows their proactiveness and commitment to crises. That notwithstanding, we insist that we do not need them now; rather we shall continue to adhere to the precautions reeled out by the health professionals to make the job easy.”

NIGERIA UNION OF JOURNALISTS: “It is pertinent to plead with the Federal Government to  stop this Medical team from coming to Nigeria because of the Italian example where there was an inexplicable spike in COVID-19 related deaths when the Chinese doctors arrived the country.”

READ MORE: Nigeria Lagos states healthcare ‘mission impossible’

Bottom line: The concerns about the impending arrival of the Chinese medical team seem to combine a number of different issues ranging from longstanding insecurities about being displaced by foreigners, growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the country and even, just for good measure, worries about how the deployment of Nigeria’s new Chinese-built 5G network is somehow involved in all of this. Yes. Really.

This article first appeared on The China Africa Project 

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