STAND­ING ON FRONT LINE AGAINST PATHOGENS

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 40 YEARS ON - By WANG XIAODONG wangx­i­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

China’s grow­ing ex­cel­lence in sci­en­tific and med­i­cal re­search is play­ing a ma­jor role in the global war on pathogens and in­fec­tious dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to Alain Merieux, chair­man and CEO of French con­glom­er­ate In­sti­tut Merieux.

Merieux, whose com­pany was es­tab­lished by his grand­fa­ther in Lyon in 1897, has made a mas­sive con­tri­bu­tion to im­prov­ing China’s pub­lic health over the past 40 years, ini­tially by pro­vid­ing vac­cines, and then through med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tics and im­munother­apy.

He first vis­ited the coun­try in April 1978, sev­eral months be­fore the cen­tral gov­ern­ment launched its trans­for­ma­tive re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy.

Since then, he has spent decades ded­i­cated to co­op­er­a­tion in the health sec­tor, even­tu­ally lead­ing to the open­ing of China’s first P4 — pho­tolitho­graphic pat­tern plated probe — lab­o­ra­tory in 2015.

The lab, which is based in Wuhan, Hubei prov­ince, has the high­est biosafety stan­dards in the world, al­low­ing re­searchers to study the most danger­ous viruses, in­clud­ing Ebola. The project has be­come a sym­bol of Chi­ne­seFrench col­lab­o­ra­tion in pub­lic health.

“In the health field, which is the one I know best, China has been able to ad­dress ma­jor is­sues” over the past 40 years, Merieux said, “pro­vid­ing ac­cess to health­care for ev­ery­one in an enor­mous coun­try; fight­ing against the ma­jor threats rep­re­sented by emerg­ing pathogens, res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases and cancer; and pre­vent­ing food-borne health risks”.

He also praised the over­all changes seen in the na­tion.

“China has made ex­cep­tional progress that com­mands re­spect,” he said. “The coun­try has ac­com­plished in 40 years what other coun­tries took a cen­tury to do, and has been able to as­sert it­self as a lead­ing global power.”

In four decades, “China has re­dis­cov­ered its pride and strength,” Merieux added.

The coun­try has par­tic­u­larly ex­celled in terms of in­fras­truc­ture, as the cre­ation of high­ways, air­ports and high-speed trains has com­pletely changed the coun­try, he said. There has also been re­mark­able progress in sci­en­tific re­search, as well as aca­demic, med­i­cal and sci­en­tific equip­ment and in­fras­truc­ture.

Merieux called for greater in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion with China to help in the pre­ven­tion and con­trol of in­fec­tious dis­eases such as tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and for the coun­try to con­trib­ute more to the whole world.

“This fight must be global, since pathogens cut across bor­ders,” he said. “In this fight, we must pri­or­i­tize in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions, and China has a ma­jor role to play through the ex­cel­lence of its sci­en­tific and med­i­cal teams, and its ma­jor re­search ef­forts.”

The Merieux Foun­da­tion, which com­bats in­fec­tious dis­eases that af­fect de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, is work­ing with the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion to im­prove di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of ma­jor in­fec­tious dis­eases in China.

Merieux said his in­sti­tute has also had pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences co­op­er­at­ing on TB erad­i­ca­tion pro­grams with au­thor­i­ties in Zhe­jiang and Hei­longjiang provinces and the Xin­jiang Uygur and Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gions, and that he hopes to ex­pand the col­lab­o­ra­tion, par­tic­u­larly to Yun­nan prov­ince.

In 2014, the busi­ness­man was pre­sented with the Friend­ship Award, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s high­est honor given to for­eign­ers, for his con­tri­bu­tion to dis­ease pre­ven­tion and con­trol.

Merieux said he is op­ti­mistic about China’s fu­ture, pre­dict­ing that within 10 years it will be a high-tech so­ci­ety built on ma­jor in­no­va­tions, as well as play­ing a crit­i­cal role in coun­tries in­volved in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has “been able to cre­ate gi­gan­tic in­fras­truc­ture in the coun­try, and will con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing they can to make ed­u­ca­tion ac­ces­si­ble to all and cre­ate ef­fec­tive univer­si­ties”, he said.

“They have been able to fight against the global scourge of cor­rup­tion, and open up to the rest of the world while re­main­ing com­mit­ted to their very long-term vi­sion.”

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