Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Good governance matters in Ebola fight

By He Jingwei (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-03 07:39

Even until a few weeks ago, the majority of Chinese people believed that the Ebola epidemic, which has claimed more than 4,900 lives, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, was too far from home to worry about. But with the deadly virus traveling across the Atlantic, alarm bells have started ringing in China, which encountered Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 11 years ago.

Given the rapid flow of people between China and Africa, the Ebola virus could strike the country earlier than feared. A study by US Northeastern University says there is a 20 to 25 percent chance that China could have reported its first Ebola case by the end of October.

While it is hard to predict the exact time and place in China where the virus will first strike, Guangdong province seems rather vulnerable because it has a sizable number of African people, including those from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. In fact, an estimated 40,000 African people travel to Guangdong every month.

A drill staged by Guangdong authorities recently reflected the level of the province's preparedness to combat an epidemic. The central government, too, has announced a series of measures, including more stringent screening at ports of entry and raising the alertness level of the medical and public healthcare sector.

These are reassuring moves, especially because the SARS outbreak in 2003 exposed the deficiencies in China's public healthcare system. While the attention paid to disease control and prevention as opposed to curative care was weak, technological prowess and personnel's skills were weaker. The painful lessons learned at the time prompted China to improve its public healthcare "hardware" and "software" both. But despite now being equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and better-trained professionals, the healthcare system has not yet been put to a real test.

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