Czech-African Health Forum biggest event of its kind in decades

A two-day Czech-African Health Forum began at Prague’s Černín Palace on Wednesday, bringing together representatives of 10 African countries and seven health ministers. Pandemic management, strengthening the healthcare sector, and Czech business solutions for hospitals are among the topics on the agenda. I interviewed Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Tlapa to find out why Africa is important to the Czech Republic.

“This is the largest conference we have organised with Africa in the last 30 years, and it’s based on our diplomacy efforts to attract Africans to the solutions we can offer. And also it’s a lesson which we learnt from the pandemic crisis, which we all faced together. So the purpose of the meeting is to discuss how we can tackle the pandemic policy of Europe and the world, how to improve efficiency of organisation for example, and to offer the solutions of the Czech Republic. That’s why Czech businesses and financial institutions are here, which are ready to finance the projects. From the Czech side it’s very much about empathy – to know what is demanded and we are lucky to organise it with such a high participation of African partners. I think that is clear evidence reflecting the efforts of Czech diplomacy.”

Why is Africa important to the Czech Republic?

Martin Tlapa | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“There are several reasons. Let me give you a figure – Czech exports to Africa doubled in the last ten years. Now it’s about 53 billion CZK – it’s almost the same volume as we are exporting to China, and it’s even more than we are exporting to India or to Latin America. So even from the business point of view, it’s a market which is increasingly important for Czech businesses.

“Africa is an increasingly important partner for the Czech Republic because it’s a fast-growing population next to Europe, facing the same challenges in the world, and we have to work together for the prosperity of Africa and the security of both Africa and Europe, so we have an increasingly common interest to do things together.”

“We have a very good reputation in Africa, and not so many people know for example that we built more than 40 bridges in infrastructure, that we are building hospitals, we are building airports, we are delivering environmental technologies. So I think that the Czech Republic is more and more visible in Africa and this is an invitation to do even more in the future.”

The Czech Republic is due to take up the rotating presidency of the European Council in July of this year – how high will relations with Africa be on the agenda?

Czech-African Health Forum | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

“It’s not easy to define the topics for the EU presidency because we know that now it’s very much affected by the Russian aggression towards Ukraine and we have to respond. The Czech Republic will be bold as the leading country in the EU Council on that.

“But we also would like to take on board our co-operation with Africa. We will be using the occasion of the EU presidency for continuing and forming EU policy towards Africa. On a European level it’s very much about understanding what is demanded – it’s not about what we send to Africa, it’s what we can do with Africa. And we are discussing now about the new development framework, about the Global Gateway program, for example – it’s very important that they will tackle the needs which Africa has. Health, security and education are three major topics we found in discussion with Africa, and we would like to spread them through the Czech presidency to the EU’s development co-operation priorities.”