Medecins sans Frontieres seeks China's help on Africa malaria cure

MSF chief says Chinese scientists have long fought against the mosquito-borne disease

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2012, 4:59am

One of the world's leading medical NGOs is in talks with Chinese scientists and researchers to develop a malaria treatment suitable for Africa, as well as other places.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) president Dr Unni Karunakara, who was in Hong Kong to attend the organisation's annual meeting, said MSF and China's medical establishment could together make big progress in the battle against malaria.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the disease killed 596,000 in Africa in 2010, the vast majority of a global total that year of 655,000.

"Malaria is a hugely serious disease in Africa and China has officially stated its commitment to combating malaria on the continent of Africa," Karunakara, 48, said. For example, in the Central African Republic, on average, everyone suffers a bout of malaria each year.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done and Chinese scientists and researchers can play a big role. We are hopeful then that the Chinese government will continue to engage us on these issues."

Karunakara says China is an ideal partner for MSF in the fight against malaria because of its long history of developing treatments for the mosquito-borne disease. Malaria, which is notoriously difficult to eradicate, still affects rural parts of Anhui, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei and Yunnan provinces.

MSF, whose English name is Doctors Without Borders, is an independent organisation that sends emergency medical and humanitarian aid to regions ravaged by war, epidemics or natural disasters. It has been working in China since 1998 and has offices in Beijing and Guangzhou.

It has submitted a proposal to the Chinese government for another project to treat sexually transmitted infections.

"We are not just talking to the Chinese government about new projects, but more and more we are finding that doctors from China want to work with us in underdeveloped countries," he said. "Today, 17 volunteers from the mainland - including doctors, gynaecologists and logisticians - have worked for us. This number is on the rise."

Hong Kong is one of MSF's regional hubs in Asia and supplies the organisation with a diverse range of field workers.