Bernhard Schwartländer: China and WHO would make more remarkable contribution to global public health

2017-March-6 10:11 By: Hello, Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander. Thank you very much for joining the interview with Guangming online. It’s our great pleasure to have you here. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Switzerland on January 15, 2017. He paid an historic visit to the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 18 at the invitation of Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General. That was also the first time for a Chinese leader to visit WHO headquarters. What do you think about the visit? What strategic achievements did it make?

Bernhard Schwartländer: This is a very remarkable visit that the president did to WHO. It is the first organization that he visited when he came to Geneva. I am very privileged to be part of this visit and observe the interaction between the president, the first lady professor Peng Liyuan and colleagues in the WHO, my director, who is a Chinese, Margaret Chan. It was a very remarkable moment. It does build on almost over 70 years of cooperation between China and WHO. Almost 70 years ago, China was among the very first countries to join the WHO. This is a very strong reflection of this very good cooperation. The world has changed so much that different diseases and virus can travel very far just in one day. Neither the WHO nor individual countries can independently tackle these threats that can happen every day. At the same time, we have seen a massive step up under excellent leadership of the Chinese government in helping to build systems that allowed us to tackle these threats, the very famous Eblola outbreak, a massive outbreak of deadly virus in Africa, for instance. China was among the very first to send people to West Africa to help fight the outbreak where it happened. Recognizing always the best to fight diseases, they didn’t wait for it to come to other places or to China. So this was a really remarkable achievement also of China. What happened concretely during the visit of President Xi was that he observed the signing of the memorandum of understanding on a collaboration agreement between the Chinese government and WHO and it’s focusing on the “One Belt and One Road” initiative, which I think is a very smart way to define and frame collaboration because basically, “One Belt and One Road” initiative is about the collaboration between countries. It is about the exchange of experiences, exchange of cultures and that is fundamentally what we need. If we want to promote public health wherever we are along the corridor of economic cooperation, we do believe this is a very strong framework for cooperation President Xi Jinping pointed out that public health is a global challenge. Boosting the development of global health services is an indispensable part of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Last August, President Xi said, “Without health for all people, there will be no all-around well-off society.” What will WHO do in the next few years in order to promote public health in China?

Bernhard Schwartländer: First of all, they are in full support of the very visionary agenda that the president has put forward, the Healthy China 2030 plan, which is one of the first concrete country plan to support the sustainable development agenda. This is a remarkable achievement. One of our focuses is of course to support the massive health project, which is the largest health project we have seen, that inspires us to lead China into the 21st-century modern health systems which guarantee all Chinese, whether they live in rich places like Shnghai, Beijing, or in poor places in rural China, get full access to the services they need. I’m not surprised to hear that controlling the consumption of tobacco is being identified as an imperative task. Since June 1, 2015, all indoor public places in Beijing have been required by law to be 100 percent smoke-free. And I know that you are a volunteer in anti-smoking drive. So can you tell us what have you done as an anti-smoking volunteer? Are you satisfied with the effect of implementation of the smoke-free law in Beijing?

Bernhard Schwartländer: I think the smoke-free law in Beijing was a milestone for the Healthy China agenda and I am very happy to see that not only in Beijing but also in Shenzhen, Shanghai. They have similar smoke-free laws that really help the people living in these places to be able to breath clean air whenever they are indoors. So this is remarkable. Now there are a number of things I have done. First of all, I am trying to push very hard in promoting public awareness, I try to make a very strong case that the health of people is worth more input than anything else in the world. If people are not healthy, what could money do to help them. So guaranteeing smoke-free places is the most important thing that I can do, also I’m very happy to go out. For example, in Beijing I joined local volunteers in the morning for a couple of days to give them my support and to show them my support. I think it's important because in doing such a great work every day there are thousands of volunteers going around, educating people, going into restaurants to make sure nobody is smoking in this place, explaining why this is important. My commitment is to the wonderful people who try to make sure the excellent laws are really being put into effect in Beijing and people also hope to see it in Shanghai, in Shenzhen. It's just remarkable and wonderful Peng Liyuan, who accompanied President Xi Jinping in his meetings with Director-General Chan, was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV in 2011, and plays an active role in preventing those diseases. At the same time, WHO have helped and will continue to help China cope with epidemic diseases. What do you think about the progress the two sides have made in China and globally? What are your expectations for their future collaboration?

Bernhard Schwartländer: Professor Peng Liyuan made a remarkable effort and service for public health. . It's just remarkable and so important. She is a role model for me and other people all around the world. What is really important is to recognize the collaboration between China and WHO is really two-way cooperation. There are many things we can do in WHO to help develop policies that are really relevant in the countries. So we can help set global norms and standards from which countries can learn and benefit. I think there are many examples for China to learn from and it is very eager to learn. Inviting foreign experts from WHO or other countries helped WHO to make sure that the guidelines and the systems established in China are in line with global standards. But at the same time, I think it's really important to say that there are so much knowledge and experience in China from which other countries can benefit. Having put hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, having provided medical services for hundreds of millions of people in a very short period of time. Today, China has made sure every Chinese can enjoy basic health services and is covered by a national health insurance system. There are so many lessons that other country can learn from, so it is also my duty to help make sure that this knowledge, this wonderful expertise reach other countries. So this is really cooperation between partners Nearly seventy years has passed since China became a member of WHO when it was founded on April 7, 1948. The cooperation between China and WHO is nothing short of exemplary. In what ways has such cooperation benefited Chinese people from the perspective of public health?

Bernhard Schwartländer: In many ways our collaboration has helped in the development of public health in China. For example, massive health reform projects are currently underway in China, Chinese people can feel it. They have much better access to health care than they used to have before. For example, last year, we did a very significant study together with the World Bank. World Bank has lots of expertise in the financing aspects, including financing of health care for example. This is a very fruitful collaboration. Remembering the smoke-free law in Beijing is a very good point. It's a very important document that sets our standards about how a country actually deals with tobacco industries and this is the framework that WHO developed. So this is another example of how the collaboration between WHO and a country like China has brought very concrete health outcomes to people, and the fact that we can breath fresh air in doors in Beijing all over the places is a very concrete example of the collaboration. Having been the WHO representative in China since September 1, 2013, how would you describe the role you have played? What achievements are you most proud of? What are your plans for the future?

Bernhard Schwartländer: Before I assumed this position in China, I was actually a medical doctor and public health doctor in my own country, Germany. I was able to help in the process of global policy making, but after 15 years, I really felt I would go to a country and interact more closely with people and make sure all the creative ideas at the global level can really make sense and be applied to people living in the place. I feel so privileged to be working in China, a country of such a great capacity, there are so much innovation in progress, and so many changes taking place regarding public health. So for me, the most important is the trustful relationship that I have with my colleagues here because this is the basis for any collaboration. If you trust each other, listen to each other, you can really help each other. So I think I am really privileged to be here. What do you expect from the “two sessions” regarding reforms in the field of public health?

Bernhard Schwartländer: First of all, I would hope that the leaders of China coming together doing the "Lianghui" highlight the very visionary Healthy China 2030 plan President Xi put forward last year. I think this is a framework that is an example for the rest of the world, and all of us should contribute to its implementation. I think this is very important. Of course, I also have a really concrete plea to those leaders coming together, I think building on the examples of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, this time we should implement a national smoke-free law so that not only those who live in a rich city but also Chinese citizens in other parts of the country can benefit from clean air whenever they are indoors .(GUANGMING ONLINE Reporter Gao Lingjie)

Editor: glj
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