Making sense of Belt and Road – The NGO: Project Hope
When infrastructure is developed on a scale like this, the ripples flow in every direction, including health. What does Belt and Road mean from that perspective?
Project Hope is an NGO that delivers essential medicines and supplies, including medical training and volunteers, to prevent disease, respond to disaster and generally improve health worldwide.
“I think it’s a fascinating project, but I do think there need to be some public health considerations as it moves forward,” says Thomas Kenyon, president and CEO, speaking from Washington DC. “With any infrastructure development there can be public health consequences, good and bad. If it improves overall health and sanitation, that will have a positive outcome. If it leads to air pollution, or increases lifestyle issues that drive diseases such as tobacco, dietary changes and sanitary lifestyle, it will have negative consequences.”
Improved communication, from a health perspective, is a double-edged sword. “We know from other parts of the world that, while we welcome transport corridors, in the example of the AIDS epidemic, the closer you are to a road, the higher your risk.”
Still, Kenyon believes there is a great opportunity here provided health has been considered.
“It does create a tremendous platform for collaboration across a huge geographic area with an enormous population,” he says.
Project Hope established a children’s medical centre in Shanghai, which has now been designated a national centre and has been followed by another in Beijing.
“We are already thinking of it as a platform to bring in other children’s hospital leaders to drive a common agenda, coordinating with one another, transferring skills and sharing technology,” says Kenyon.
This demonstration and collaboration effect, he thinks, is a positive that could come out of the greater communication with Belt and Road.
“If they could replicate what the Shanghai children’s medical centre has done over the last 20 years, which has a rich research agenda and the potential to share – earlier in its drive for prosperity China didn’t have this capacity,” Kenyon says. “Now it has major technical capacity to share with countries along the Belt and Road project.”
He notes that, although there are no stated health objectives in Belt and Road, “it is after all to lift people out of poverty, to improve economic standing; and as socioeconomic standards rise, health comes with that.”
But realizing the potential for health will be a negotiation, he says: “Sometimes in countries, health isn’t always the top priority. The priority is infrastructure projects, roads and dams and power. Social services tend to follow next, and it may be a matter of time before we can expect a health agenda to materialize.”
Perhaps surprisingly, China’s Public Security Bureau says it invited representatives from 11 overseas NGOs to attend a forum in Beijing on Belt and Road. Project Hope was one of three groups that set out proposals for women and children’s health consultation, surgical training, medical assistance, humanitarian aid and public health projects.
A spokesman for the Public Security Bureau’s office on the management of overseas NGOs told China Development Brief that the department “will cooperate with banks, tax administrations and overseas departments to ensure convenience for overseas NGOs that work with One Belt, One Road initiatives.”