BEIJING (Reuters) - China's corporations and billionaires have lagged behind in contributions to fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa despite vast economic ties to the region, the World Food Programme said on Monday.
An Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst on record, has killed more than 4,000 people. China has contributed about $40 million in aid to fight the disease, including $6 million to the World Food Programme.
"Where are the Chinese billionaires and their potential impact? Because this is the time that they could really have such a huge impact," said Brett Rierson, the organization's representative in China, at a briefing.
"You can ask the same thing of the corporate sector, being the largest investors in West Africa right now."
Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd., a Chinese drug maker with military ties, has sent several thousand doses of an experimental Ebola drug to Africa and is planning clinical trials there.
China has also sent hundreds of aid workers to Africa to help.
Dudley Thomas, Liberia's ambassador to China, told Reuters his country had secured one donation of $100,000 from a large Chinese construction firm that has projects in the country, but few other contributions.
He added Liberia's government was in talks with other large Chinese investors, including the state-owned China-Africa Development Fund, a private equity fund focusing facilitating investment between China and Africa.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., said last week he and his wife were donating $25 million toward combating Ebola. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million.
China's donation to the World Food Programme would be used to provide staple foods in the three hardest-hit countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, Rierson said.
That puts China among the top donors to the organization for combating Ebola. The United States contributed $12.67 million and Japan gave $6 million, Rierson said.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday the country would continue to provide support.
"The Chinese government and people have followed the development of the epidemic situation and have provided four batches of aid to relevant African countries and international organizations," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The World Food Programme said it had only raised about a third of what it needs for the anti-Ebola fight.
About a million Chinese nationals live in Africa, with about 10,000 in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Mao Qun'an, a spokesman for China's National Health and Family Planning Commission, said in addition to sending aid to affected countries, China has been training doctors in public hospitals in handling Ebola cases.
China has also toughened health checks at airports in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, he added.
"If they come across a person running a fever or with other possible symptoms of Ebola, they will be taken directly to a local hospital," Mao said. "These entry points are key."
China has not implemented any restrictions on travel to and from affected countries.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie