By Will Koulouris

With much of the talk about the Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI) centering around the vast trade and economic potential of the ambitious plan, one aspect of the way in which it has the capacity to change lives globally is often overlooked by outside parties.

Ensuring access to cheap and efficient healthcare solutions is one of the most critical challenges facing much of the developing world, with the B&RI offering a unique opportunity for partnerships to be established that will see billions of lives changed for the better.

The B&RI is an ambitious plan proposed by China in 2013, which aims to re-establish the ancient Silk Road land and maritime routes, and bring renewed prosperity, and higher standards of living, across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the rest of the world.

One company who shares the Chinese government vision of improving the lives of everyone along the B&RI is BGI, one of China’s leading bio-tech firms, who plans to bring cheap and affordable healthcare along the routes; and executive vice president of BGI, Yu Tak Kin (Duncan), said recently that by lowering the cost of treatments, the lives of the people along the Belt and Road would be improved drastically.

“So we have been working together with the Chinese Government, and we have been providing our services to those areas, and at a much lower cost. This allows the Government to roll out other campaigns,” Yu said.

At the recent Belt and Road International Cooperation Forum in Beijing earlier in May, the chairman of BGI, Wang Jian, spoke of the need to use the Belt and Road as a means of bettering the lives of those it reaches, by trying to eradicate infectious diseases and lower infant mortality rates through sharing cutting-edge technologies with developing nations along the routes.

The utilization of the Belt and Road by BGI is not solely focussed on health care, with agriculture development also being a critical part of their intended delivery of services along the routes with the company looking to ensure “stable and reliable sources of food” and to “protect biodiversity”, thus ensuring that along with the economic benefits, the overall benefits lead to a levelling of the playing field in these emerging nations.

BGI also presented at the United Nations, and the World Health Organisation recently, these plans to improve not only the health care, but lives of billions of people around the world, and is currently on a mission to try and bring in as many global partners as possible to make this a reality.

“Between the Chinese government and BGI, we will look at all sorts of partnerships, we don’t want to restrict it to one or two. To us the challenge is huge,” Yu said

“There is no way that BGI, or China can achieve these important outcomes alone. We will try to bring in all the possible partners, and organisations that really want to improve the health care of the world. They are all welcome.”

In order to test the concept of being able to deliver on their goals, Yu said BGI launched a program in collaboration with the Tibetan Autonomous Government as a proof of concept in the remote region.

“This is where we believe where if we look at the conditions, the environment, and also the remoteness. We truly believe that if we can launch these services in Tibet, then basically we can launch them anywhere in the world,” Yu said.

One of the key issues of this kind of ambitious goal is that of sustainability says Yu, who noted that BGI is committed to not only entering these countries along the B&RI to assist with their health outcomes, but by transferring their knowledge and expertise so that long-term and beneficial results can be achieved autonomously in these developing nations.

“Our goal is just not to administer the services, but we will also transfer the technologies to them (developing nations), to help them to build up the infrastructure,” Yu said.

“At the same time, we will train the people to make sure that they can administer these services on their own. We will also work with them to accept some exchange students, launch exchange programs to ensure they can develop their future bio-tech capability.”

At an United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action event in New York last week, the head of strategic communication and public affairs for BGI, Kong Ao, said that the “common wisdom” would indicate that innovation could not be introduced first in developing countries, but this is exactly what BGI is trying to achieve along the Belt and Road.

“(It’s) a new way of thinking and operating by bringing genetics technology to stemming diseases in areas like Guizhou, Henan and Tibet in China and in countries along ‘the Belt and Road’,” Kong said.

“We learnt that defining and executing our own unique vision and building broad partnerships with mutual respect always pays back. That’s what fuels the fast growth of Chinese companies on the world stage.”

The long-term benefits that will be provided along the Belt and Road are inherently ingrained in the concept of this sustainability, that will allow these emerging nations along the ancient Silk Road paths to fully prosper, while ensuring that they are supported by the access to the latest innovative technologies.

“Cutting-edge new technologies can only reach their fullest potential to benefit humankind when they are implemented with a long-term vision and a sustainable development model,” Kong said.

Yu said BGI has made a point of providing this access along the Belt and Road, as many of these developing countries currently lack the resources required to level the playing field in the healthcare sector.

“We realise that there are more people living below the poverty line in undeveloped, or underdeveloped areas. That just can’t afford these services,” Yu said.

“So in places (along the Belt and Road) we have already started the full coverage. Making our services available to the whole population.”

Looking to the future requires learning from the past, according to Yu, who said that China is rapidly advancing in the fields of science, technology, and innovation; and used the development of BGI as an example to demonstrate that fact.

“Look at the nature of genomics, look at the key developments in China. We see the things that have been developed elsewhere, but now, China is catching up. We are in a behind mode, but we are catching up,” Yu said.

Yu said BGI was formed with the purpose of “international collaboration”, and that after consistent development over the past 16 years, is now looking to take a more “active” role, especially through partnering with the B&RI.

“We are already ahead of most places, so this gives us really the technological advantage. We now have the confidence to try something unprecedented.”