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U.S., China Open Shanghai Epidemiology Center For Chronic, Epidemic Diseases

Chinese and U.S. health officials opened an epidemiology center in Shanghai Tuesday to train experts to deal with and prevent chronic and epidemic diseases, the Associated Press reports.

The CDC “is helping with training and technical assistance at the center that will be ‘driven by what are the major public health issues in this country,’ said CDC deputy director Stephen B. Thacker.” Additional field epidemiologists are needed in China and throughout the world, and they also need to be “better trained,” according to Thacker.

The Chinese need broad expertise in public health, not just infectious disease. “We need to look at what’s killing people, what’s putting people in hospitals. Here in Shanghai, the leading causes of death are not infections, they’re heart disease, stroke, injuries, cancer and so on,” he said.

“Outbreaks of SARS (sudden acute respiratory syndrome) and bird flu since 2003, and last year’s swine flu epidemic have driven home the rising risks from new diseases or deadly mutations of epidemic ailments, especially in developing countries that may lack the infrastructure to cope with them before they get out of hand,” the AP notes.

The Chinese government is starting to put more money into prevention, Wang Longxing, director of the Shanghai city Health Bureau, said. “We want to avoid the situation where people will only be willing to spend money to go to see the doctor when they are already sick,” Wang said.

According to the AP, the CDC “has trained more than 3,000 epidemiologists worldwide since it began international programs 30 years ago, Thacker said, adding that, ‘We still have holes. It’s not like we’re there yet'” (Kurtenbach, 6/29).

Washington Post Examines China’s Scientific, Medical Research ‘Resurgence’

The Washington Post examines China’s recent “resurgence in potentially world-changing research” and how some scientists “are also pushing the limits of ethics and principle as they create a new – and to many, worrisome – Wild West in the Far East.”  

“A decade ago, no one considered China a scientific competitor. Its best and brightest agreed and fled China in a massive brain drain to university research labs at Harvard, Stanford and MIT. But over the past five years, Western-educated scientists and gutsy entrepreneurs have conducted a rearguard action, battling China’s hidebound bureaucracy to establish research institutes and companies. Those have lured home scores of Western-trained Chinese researchers dedicated to transforming the People’s Republic of China into a scientific superpower,” according to the Washington Post.

One of China’s recent successes includes a new test for cervical cancer that costs less then $5. Chinese researchers, in collaboration with a U.S. firm, beat out an Indian team to develop the test and received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the newspaper notes.

The article looks at some of the factors that hinder innovation in China, noting that “since the communist revolution in 1949, China has developed only one internationally recognized drug – Artemisinin – to fight malaria.” On the other hand, some of China’s “best scientific institutes,” such as the Beijing Genomics Institute or BGI, are able to accomplish a lot by “insulating [themselves] from China’s government bureaucracy.”

“By far, China’s most successful research institution is the National Institute for Biological Sciences … The institute’s 23 principal investigators, its director and deputy director are all returnees from the United States. It’s also the only major research institute in China that does not have a Communist Party secretary,” according to the newspaper (Pomfret, 6/28). 

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.