By Laiyin Yuan
Translator: Laiyin Yuan
Published on: 08/24/2014
Source: Guangming Daily
Original text (in Chinese): http://news.gmw.cn/2014-08/24/content_12734600.htm
Excerpt from (in Chinese): http://www.chinanews.com/gj/2012/04-20/3834799.shtml
In order to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, China recently sent out two teams of medical experts to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries to help improve local health capacity. Since the first Chinese medical teams sent to Africa in 1963, Chinese doctors who work in foreign lands have always maintained visibility. For 51 years, these respected, wonderful people travelled across land and sea, and treating many patients in 51 African countries. Healthcare has no borders, and love has no boundaries. These Chinese medical teams not only brought health to receiving countries, but also left extremely positive impressions of the Chinese nation.
— Laiyin Yuan (translator)
At the time, China had just gone through the Three Years of Great Chinese Famine. On the other side of the world, Algeria had also just survived a dissimilar disaster – 130 years of French colonial rule. Because all the French medical equipment and personnel had left the country, the Algeria government sent out requests for medical help to the entire world. In January 1963, China was the first to announce sending medical teams to Algeria. In April of that same year, the first Chinese medical team, a group of 13, opened the initial chapter of China’s half-century-long history of medical aid in Africa.
Qian Junqi witnessed the origination of the Chinese medical aid team, but Wang Liji witnessed their gradual deployment to remoter and tougher areas. As the Deputy Director-General of the Department of International Cooperation, National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), Wang used to passionately summarize the medical teams’ work: “In more than half a century, Chinese medical workers have scattered like pearls on the African continent – from the Sahara Desert to Victoria Falls, from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Guinea Coast, from the river Nile to the Great Rift Valley, from the Congo river to the Zambezi basin, even from the vast savanna to the thick jungle. They work conscientiously and selflessly for the public health of recipient countries, and now these teams have expanded from the original 13 to more than 20,000 members.”
The work is full of danger, but the teams still need to take risks for the sake of the local population. Locals have great trust in Chinese doctors no matter their health problems, ranging from minor ailments such as trichiasis or insects in ears to serious disease such as amoebic liver abscess or malaria. Chinese doctors never flinch when facing dangerous epidemic diseases such as malaria, Ebola, and AIDS, or frequent conflicts and chaos in the region. As a result, almost 50 medical workers sacrificed their lives over the past 51 years, most of them buried in foreign soil.
In the process of saving lives, Chinese doctors also promoted traditional medicine in African countries. They cured phantom limb pain with acupuncture for military amputees, and successfully treated an ambassador’s wife with electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, massages, and Chinese herbs. Chinese acupuncture is considered “magical” and very popular among Africans. An acupuncture doctor once received 140 patients in a single day. Nigeriens even requested that Chinese medical teams open acupuncture classes to train local doctors in this practice.
Therefore, medical team members work both as doctors and as teachers, standing beside both operating tables and podiums. They taught Chinese traditional techniques such as acupuncture and massages, etc. At the same time, Chinese doctors introduced cardiac surgery, tumor removal, limb replantation, minimally invasive surgery, and other sophisticated clinical medicine to recipient countries. They have a responsibility and belief in mind: leave the knowledge and technology for the locals after the teams go back to China. This is hope and promise raised by Premier Zhou Enlai when he visited Africa decades ago – “we need to train the local medical personnel, and give them a medical team that will never be taken away.” For five decades, this promise has never been broken.
The spirit of Chinese medical teams in Africa also appeals to many people back in China. Many of the initial teams’ descendants followed the same path as their fathers. Huang Mei, whose father used to be a member of the first and ninth medical aid teams and worked in Madagascar for four years, was himself a member of the 15th and 18th teams in the same country. “In the past, I always mentioned this to my classmates, friends, and later co-workers as my proudest accomplishment. I started to be curious and secretly imagined ‘following in my father’s footsteps’.”
In 2013, President Xi Jinping met with the teams in Congo (Brazzaville) and summarized the Chinese medical team spirit as “不畏艰苦、甘于奉献、救死扶伤、大爱无疆 (fearless of hardship, willing to sacrifice, dedicated to saving lives, and demonstrating great love without borders)”. This spirit is the main driving force for Chinese medical teams to work selflessly and continuously. (These images provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Planning Commission)
- “It was my honor to have the opportunity of meeting Premier Zhou Enlai in person when I was working for the medical aid team in Algeria. He told us to study and promote the ‘Bethune Spirit,’ to work hard and treat Algerians and Chinese alike.” – Chen Haifeng, vice-captain of the first squad medical team in Algeria
- “As requested by the Nigerien Ministry of Health, we opened two acupuncture training classes for local doctors. They studied very hard and told us “we can also use needles to treat the people of Niger, and we must make Chinese acupuncture bloom in the coutry.” – Wang Dengqi, team member of the first and fifth squad medical teams in Niger
- “I still remember there were many parents naming their newborns ‘Chine’ (‘China’ in French), and I always saw the locals expressing their gratitude to Chinese doctors with joyful tears, or even on their knees to thank the doctors for saving their lives. As a medical squad sent by our mother country, everyone without exception regarded the experience as an honor.” – Xu Zhenggang, team member of the first squad medical teams in Guinea
About the Guangming Daily (http://en.gmw.cn/ )
The Guangming Daily was launched on June 16, 1949 by the China Democratic League, and is a nationwide comprehensive newspaper based in Beijing. It is influential in the fields of science and technology, education and culture with a large readership, and it enjoys high prestige amongst state agencies, universities and schools, the armed forces and in intellectual circles. Over years of development, it now has grown into a large-scale newspaper group that runs other three newspapers, four periodicals, a web site and a publishing house.
 Norman Bethune (1890-1939) was a Canadian physician who serviced in Mao Zedong’s Communist army during the WWII. He effectively brought modern medicine to rural China and often treated sick villagers as much as wounded soldiers. His selfless commitment to the Chinese people made such an impression on Mao Zedong that generations of Chinese students were required to memorize the Chairman’s eulogy to him. See https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_25.htm