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Joint pandemic fight of US, China 'optimistic'

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-10 08:59
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W. Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Cooperation, transparency, investment key to global public health: researcher

An epidemiologist at Columbia University known as the "virus hunter" said China's decision-making process and infrastructure investment have contributed to the country containing the COVID-19 outbreak and he remains "optimistic" for Beijing and Washington to work together in fighting the pandemic.

W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, visited China in January 2020 to help contain the coronavirus.

He was invited to work with Chinese scientists during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Lipkin said China has "dramatically" improved its infrastructure for detection and control of emerging infectious diseases since the SARS epidemic.

"The investment paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic in diagnostics, vaccines and personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and other clothing," Lipkin told China Daily.

Thanks to its "extensive, stringent and thorough" containment measures and support policies, China became the only major economy in the world to post positive growth in 2020 amid the pandemic.

Its gross domestic product is expected to increase by 8.1 percent this year from 2.3 percent last year, the International Monetary Fund predicted on Jan 26. The draft Government Work Report of China sets the goal for the country's GDP growth this year at over 6 percent.

Further reinforcing public health infrastructure to ward off and treat diseases, the nature and size of COVID-19 is one of the hot topics for national lawmakers and political advisers gathering in Beijing for their annual meetings.

Lipkin said there are three pillars of success in preventing COVID-19 and other pandemics: intelligence, insight and implementation.

Asked about the prospects for China and the US to ramp up cooperation in these pillars, Lipkin said: "I am always optimistic. The key to global public health is global cooperation, transparency and investment."

In a video talk with Chinese medical experts last week, Lipkin said that until the entire world is vaccinated, the situation is bleak.

"We need to work together in a global fashion," Lipkin said, echoing a call from Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for the US and China to work together to boost the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access initiative and promote vaccine equity.

"Over the past 35 years, what I have become convinced about is that the largest obstacles to progress are not technical or scientific, as you've seen our ability to make vaccines and diagnostics is extraordinary," Lipkin said.

It's the lack of international, inter-institutional and interpersonal trust, respect and collaboration, he said.

Lipkin said he had a cooperative program with Sun Yat-sen University in South China's Guangdong province focusing on zoonotic diseases, including looking for antibodies in people exposed to wild animals and butcheries.

But the whole project came to a halt late last year because, "I ran into a problem of an export license" in the US, he said.

With the new US administration in place, Lipkin said he expects scientists would "be better positioned to work together as we have in the past".

"If we can get the appropriate financial and political support, I believe that we can identify the source of the virus and how it emerged from wildlife," he said. "We also plan to build screening systems to ensure that nothing like SARS or COVID-19 emerges again."

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