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An example of South-South cooperation

Andrea Kifyasi and Tanja Hammel investigate South-South knowledge circulation, the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation and TCM.

The Bandung Conference of 1955 and sister conferences (in Cairo 1957, Conakry 1960, and Moshi 1963) were milestones for South-South cooperation.

The Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation

At the Cairo Conference, 127 delegates from 19 African countries and territories were present, and the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Movement (later Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO)) was born. The “Cairo Declaration” condemned Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and made Cairo the headquarters of the Organisation. The vision for unity and helping one another aimed at counteracting the dominance of Northern aid.

The AAPSO conference, convened at Conakry in April 1960, contended: “We declare that foreign capital is not a master but only a guest in our countries. And we will not offend our guest, provided he agrees to behave decently and make no attempt to usurp.” 1

The AAPSO Council denounced all aid with expressed or unexpressed strings in 1961 and recommended production and exchanges of technical know-how among African and Asian people. Exchange of experts, teachers, doctors, writers, artists, journalists, workers, students and other technical experts was encouraged to be exercised on the broadest possible scale.

China’s Medical Assistance to Tanzania

One prime example of this is China’s dispatch of medical teams and its technical experts who worked in different hospitals and pharmaceutical industries in Tanzania.

The government of China was among the first countries from the Global South to provide medical aid to Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1964, the Chinese government formulated principles governing its economic and technical aid to foreign countries which resonated to the spirit of self-reliance advocated by Afro-Asian countries.

In the same vein, the Tanzanian government under the Arusha Declaration of 1967 spearheaded “socialism” and “self-reliance”. With these two principles, it anticipated getting rid of exploitation, enhancing the government’s control of the major means of production, and its effective use of local resources as primary agents of development. The government welcomed assistance which promised to help the country to move through a transition towards self-reliance.

Under Mao’s philosophy, the Chinese doctors perceived recipients to have prior knowledge that was worth sharing while working together. Mao underscored to Chinese experts working overseas that:

“A country, whether big or small, has its knowledge. All of us should have the habit of being students to learn from our colleagues in every matter, whether language or traditions, whether the knowledge of the disease or the work of artisans, whether work plans or how to do, physicians, specialists even patients all of them are our teachers.” 2

Chinese doctors dispatched to Tanzania in the 1960s and 70s were more formally trained than many local medical workers. However, under Mao’s teachings, they had to learn from the local medical workers. Mao’s philosophy became the basis for mutual understandings between medical workers of the two countries. Chinese doctors worked cooperatively with local medical doctors.

TCM in the HIV Pandemic

In 1986, AIDS was declared a major public health concern by the WHO. The Tanzanian government requested Chinese assistance to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic in March 1987 (after Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s trip to China) due to inadequate measures taken by the WHO. The Chinese president Deng Xiaoping accepted the request and ordered the Chinese Ministry of Health to dispatch medical experts to carry out HIV research and treatment in a project using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (CACMS) was responsible for this project.

Tanzania was the first place for CACMS research to treat HIV. A CACMS HIV clinic was established. Without experience, clinical care was started in a trial-and-error practice. Many services were offered for free. Patients were mainly women and children from low-income families. With the invention of antiretrovirals in 2004 many patients left the clinic and its reputation suffered.

Chinese HIV projects in Tanzania maintained the supremacy of TCM in Tanzania. Local medical doctors did not gain access to TCM knowledge and Chinese experts maintained dominance. The main objective of the Chinese-sponsored HIV project was to treat patients and explore effective TCM capable during the disease. They tested six herbs until 2006. These herbs helped to extend lives and improve the quality of life.

According to Doctor Wang Jian, who was the Deputy Director of the TCM Centre for AIDS Prevention and Treatment, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, and who worked on HIV/AIDS Treatment with TCM for more than twenty years, antiretrovirals focused on getting rid of symptoms, but TCM addressed the root of the cause of the disease: TCM worked on the defence of a person’s immune system, while antiretrovirals work to suppress HIV.

What do you think about this example? Do you know other examples of South-South knowledge transfer and circulation? Share and discuss your thoughts in the comment section below!

Authors: Dr Andrea Azizi Kifyasi, Dr Tanja Hammel


Kifyasi A A. Neither “Saviour” nor “Exploiter”: A Historical Study of China’s Medical Assistance in Post-Colonial Tanzania. PhD Dissertation [Internet]. 2021 [cited 1 December 2021]. Available from: A Kifyasi_Dissertation_ edoc.pdf

Permanent Secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisations, Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Movement. Cairo. 41-42.

Report of the Chinese medical doctors to the Minister for Health, 27th January 1967. ZNA. Group Index. AJ. Medical Department, File No. AJ29/322, 1964 September to 1966 December, Ripoti ya Madaktari wa Kichina.

  1. Permanent Secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisations, Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Movement. Cairo. 41-42. Cited in: Kifyasi A A. Neither “Saviour” nor “Exploiter”: A Historical Study of China’s Medical Assistance in Post-Colonial Tanzania. PhD Dissertation. 2021 [cited 1 December 2021]; 51. 
  2. Report of the Chinese medical doctors to the Minister for Health, 27th January 1967. 
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