Nine Chinese doctors have arrived in the Gambia as part of efforts to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
Gambia’s Health Minister, Saffie Lowe-Ceesay, and China’s Ambassador to Gambia, Zhang Jiming were on hand to welcome the medical practitioners on their arrival at the Banjul International Airport on Friday, 2 June.
According to Journal du Cameroun, the nine doctors are part of a comprehensive agreement between Banjul and Beijing to help strengthen Gambia’s healthcare system.
Speaking to journalists at the reception, Ambassador Jiming said Beijing and Banjul signed a two-year bilateral agreement, adding that China was ready to send in more doctors at the end of the agreement.
He said since 1956, China had made it a government policy to send medical teams to developing countries, adding that since then, Beijing has sent out more than 20,000 medical personnel to developing countries.
Ambassador Jiming said that between 1976 to 1995, the Chinese government sent no less than 180 Chinese doctors to The Gambia.
Over the years, China and the Gambia have had a checkered relationship. After independence from Britain in 1965, the Gambia chose to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China in fact considers a part of its territory. Gambia would later switch allegiance to mainland China 1971 after it firmly entrenched its position in the United Nations.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries continued unbroken from 1976 to 1995, until President Yahya Jammeh who had seized power in a bloodless coup the year before, again switched allegiance to Taiwan.
Jammeh would later sever ties with Taiwan in 2013, in readiness to re-establish diplomatic relations with China. Beijing however decided to hesitate and did not immediately jump on the overture from Gambia and official diplomatic relations did not resume until 2016.
Ambassador Jiming explained that the new team of Chinese doctors was the first to arrive in the Gambia since both countries resumed diplomatic relations.
Also speaking, the leader of the Chinese Medical Team, Dr. Liu Guipeng, a gynecologist expressed his delight at the opportunity of working in Africa. He said the team included specialists in pediatrics, orthopedics, ICU and gynecology.
In her remarks, Gambian Health Minister Saffie Lowe-Ceesay said her country was happy to welcome the doctors, pointing out that many of the health facilities in the Gambia were in fact built by the Chinese. She also urged the doctors to help build capacity and ensure the transfer of knowledge.