By Gong Wenjing
This year marks the 60th anniversary of China dispatching its first medical aid team abroad.
China has offered diagnoses and treatments for overseas patients 290 million of times since 1963 when the country sent its first overseas medical support team to Algeria.
In the past nearly 60 years, the country has sent a total of 30,000 medical workers to 76 countries and regions around the globe, saving countless lives throughout the world.
Leaving the residence at 7:30 a.m. and arriving at the hospital half an hour later, where benches along the two sides of the hall are fully packed by patients waiting to see doctors – this is the daily routine of Yang Yi, a member of the 27th Chinese medical aid team to Algeria.
Chinese doctors of the team are always fully occupied by their work and don’t even have the time to drink or go to the bathroom.
Yang is the chief physician of the rehabilitation medicine department of Shiyan Renmin Hospital in central China’s Hubei province, who went to Africa in August 2021.
She has gained a batch of “loyal fans” there thanks to her rich experience in acupuncture gained in the past three decades.
Last June, Yang received a patient surnamed Appomata who suffered from myelitis and quadriplegia. The patient was depressed and believed she would spend the rest of her life in bed. However, after two months of acupuncture therapy, she stood up again.
Acupuncture was brought to Africa by Chinese doctors when the first Chinese medical aid team arrived in Algeria 60 years ago, where this component of traditional Chinese medicine is considered “magic” by local people.
Today, Yang not only is alleviating the pain of patients with acupuncture but also has accepted two “apprentices” in Algeria.
“Acupuncture can take root here even after Chinese doctors are gone,” she said.
Guo Wei is the chief physician of the emergency department of Beijing Tiantan Hospital. He went to Guinea in 2022 with the 29th medical aid team to the country.
According to him, he and other team members faced a series of challenges in the African country, such as the scorching heat, infectious diseases, and frequent electricity blackouts.
Once, a colleague of Guo in Guinea occasionally found a laparoscope in the hospital where they worked. It had been idle for years though it was one of the most frequently used devices in the general surgery department. Later, Guo learned that it was idle because no local doctor was able to use it.
Therefore, Guo contacted the Chinese manufacturer of the laparoscope and asked it to send relevant medical consumables. The Chinese medical aid team later instructed Guinean doctors to use the device.
So far, under Chinese doctors’ guidance, local hospital doctors have performed multiple laparoscopies.
Zhou Zhuo, former head nurse of the operating room, at Beijing Shijitan Hospital, always thought of the socks her mother made for her before she went to aid Africa.
In 2008, Zhou signed up for the 21st medical aid team in Guinea.
Zhou’s mother, a medical worker, joined a medical team for the China-aided Tanzania-Zambia Railway project in the 1970s. Though she supported Zhou’s decision to join the medical aid team, she was quite worried about it because of the mosquitoes and infectious diseases in Africa. Before Zhou’s departure, the mother specifically made several pairs of socks that were able to prevent mosquito bites.
In Guinea, Zhou and her colleagues cleaned and sterilized idle warehouses and turned them into clinics and operating rooms, where large numbers of local patients later received treatment.
In May 2018, China resumed diplomatic ties with Burkina Faso in West Africa and planned to restart sending medical teams there.
Zhou was 55 that year and her parents were aged. However, as a medical worker who had foreign-aid experiences and could speak French, she signed up again for the medical aid mission. She set foot in the West African country at about the same time as the staff of the Chinese Embassy in Burkina Faso.
After arriving, the Chinese medical team spent some 20 days renovating houses, sorting medical materials, and doing other work related to camp construction.
During the team’s half-year stay in Burkina Faso, it performed 138 surgeries for local cataract patients together with experts of the Brightness Action program, a Chinese aid program.
When the team went to local villages to give a free clinic, all team members were surrounded by patients. Zhou told People’s Daily that she still remembers that many local patients would say “China is great” when posing for pictures with Chinese doctors.
Last year, Beijing Shijitan Hospital was assigned another medical aid task. “I’d still sign up if I were not retired,” Zhou said.