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China Working to Prevent Ebola at Home, Providing Aid to Africa

Health workers in protective suits transport a mock patient to a quarantine ward during a drill to demonstrate procedures for handling Ebola victims at a hospital in Guangzhou, China Oct. 16, 2014.

China has not yet confirmed any cases of Ebola within its borders, but the country is taking steps to help fight the disease in West Africa, and prevent it from entering its borders.

Beijing invested heavily in Africa over the last decade, and Chinese state media estimate there are more than 20,000 Chinese citizens living in the three countries worst hit by Ebola: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

State media also estimate that the country’s southern Guangdong province is home to hundreds of thousands of Africans, with some 40,000 visitors arriving from Africa every month.

“With international travel and the high number of cases that there currently are in West Africa, and we’ve seen in the last few weeks the cases reported in the U.S. and Spain, I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of time, but there is the need to remain vigilant,” said Martin Taylor, who leads the World Health Organization’s work in preventing Ebola from spreading to China.

He said China increased screening at all ports of entry and provided guidance for health care workers throughout the country on monitoring Ebola.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Beijing has been in close communication with the U.S. and African countries to fight Ebola, and China has sent medical experts to Africa and delivered emergency assistance in cash and food.

A Chinese pharmaceutical company with close links to the military requested quick approval from the Chinese government for an experimental drug to treat Ebola. The Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd hopes to file for approval from China’s Food and Drug Administration for the drug. So far the company has only tested the treatment on mice, but wants to stage clinical trials of the medicine before the end of this year.

“China went in with personnel, with medicines, with money,” said Victor Foh, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to Beijing. “They went in to stand by not just Sierra Leone, but to help Guinea, to help Liberia. And our own colonial Britain and the international community was still sleeping.”

Critics say more could be done

Other international groups say China, with its surging economy and growing ranks of wealthy citizens, could provide even more aid to a region where it has many economic ties.

The U.N. announced Monday that China so far has donated $6 million to the World Food Program to help alleviate food shortages in the three African countries worst affected by the Ebola virus.

"I am asking where are the Chinese billionaires and their potential impact?” said Brett Rierson, the World Food Program’s representative in China. “Because this is the time that they could really have such a huge impact. I think you can ask the same thing of the corporate sector, being the largest investors in West Africa right now, this would be the time that the corporates could really step up and have a massive impact, a life-saving impact."

It remains to be seen how China’s health care system and tightly scripted state media, will respond if and when the country registers an Ebola case within its borders.

Last week, a Nigerian man with Ebola symptoms was quarantined after flying to the Chinese city Ningbo, following a stopover in Taiwan. The man’s temperature later returned to normal and authorities determined he was not carrying the disease.

But that information was relayed to the public by health officials in neighboring Taiwan, who said they had spoken to their counterparts in China.