For over 50 years, China has sent more than 21,000 medical workers to provide medical aid in Africa. Their professionalism and dedication have helped improve the overall health conditions of the continent.
When night falls, Liao Hansu, a Chinese obstetrician, finishes her daily ward inspection and recalls the memories of her medical aid experiences in Comoros, a small African country in the Indian Ocean.
“I still worry that women giving birth in local hospitals with relatively poor medical conditions might suffer from emergent and severe symptoms,” said Liao, five months after she returned from Comoros.
For over 50 years, over 21,000 Chinese medical workers like Liao have been sent to provide medical aid in Africa, and along with government programs to improve local medical conditions, they have been changing the Continent’s health conditions for better.
In her first 16 days in Comoros, Liao treated 32 patients, performed 22 surgeries, delivered eight babies and saved two critically ill patients.
Since China started medical assistance to Africa in 1963, as of last year, Chinese medical personnel have treated some 220 million patients in 48 African countries, according to the National Health Commission.
For medical workers like Liao, life and work are quite different in Africa than back at home.
Liao worked at the Hospital El-Maarouf for 15 months. Upon her arrival, she found that hygiene and medical facilities were insufficient.
“Not all families can afford separate disinfection packages and surgical gloves for child delivery operations, and some just use normal gloves,” said Liao.
For the lack of pharmaceutical factories locally, the hospitals of Comoros depended mainly on importing expensive medication, which many patients cannot afford.
Misoprostol, a medicine for treating postpartum bleeding, is also insufficient in the hospital, and Liao would buy them in pharmacies herself to offer to patients in dire needs.
The work is busy due to the lack of medical personnel. “I worked continuously back then and had scarcely a free day,” she said.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve last year, a time for families to be together, Liao was busy saving lives and delivering babies in Comoros all night and did not call her family back in China.
“I was too busy to be homesick,” she said.
Liao, who is from southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is among the 12th batch of medical workers sent to Comoros.
Medical teams from China have been fighting against malaria in the area, including providing artemisinin medication to local people.
“Two of Comoros’ three islands are now malaria-free, and the infection rate on the island where the capital is located continues to drop,” said Liao.
According to official statistics, the death toll from malaria in Comoros has been reduced to zero and the incidence rate has been reduced by 98 percent.
To improve local medical conditions, China also built hospitals. In August 2016, General Hospital of Niger, with the assistance of the Chinese government, was completed in Niamey, the capital of Niger.
Every Wednesday, local doctors in Comoros gather for regular meetings, where Liao often shares her expertise and experiences in gynaecology and obstetrics.
Liao also organises tea parties to exchange her medical knowledge with local doctors. She prepares every part of the event herself, from buying snacks to borrowing a projector.
“I always hope I can share all I know with them. You know that the more knowledge and skills the doctors acquire, the lower the infant mortality rate will be,” Liao said.
Guangxi medical teams have trained more than 4,000 local medical personnel in Africa since 2013, according to the health commission of Guangxi.
Between 1976 and 2018, an estimated 800 personnel in 21 batches from Guangxi were sent to Niger and Comoros.
Xiao Changqing, a retired endocrinologist, was the head of the ninth Chinese medical aid team to Niger in 1996. Back then, his teammates have developed relatively new techniques, such as cataract replacement, which created quite a stir back then.
Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) is also welcomed by Africans. “Many African friends know and love Chinese medicines such as artemisinin and balm, and they give them as gifts to their relatives and friends,” Xiao said.
More recently, Chinese medical teams have brought in advanced technologies such as phacoemulsification, heart bypass and endoscopic minimally invasive surgery to provide patients with a wide range of services.
Chinese medical teams are cherished by locals. Xiao said that on Niger’s National Day, Independence Day and other occasions, local governments invite Chinese medical staffs to participate in celebrations.
Oguguo Gabriel from Nigeria has spent six years studying clinical medicine at Guangxi Medical University.
“I dream to become a clinical doctor. When I was a child I heard that many Chinese doctors with delicate medical skills had brought health to many Africans, so I made up my mind to major in medicine in China,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel plans to return to Nigeria to serve the public after finishing school. He is now searching for scholarship information including the Belt & Road Scholarship and Chinese Government Scholarship and is applying for a master’s degree in clinical medicine.
“I found that China is always willing to share its advanced medical technology and management skills with the world. I do hope I can spread the knowledge I learn in China and in some way promote the medical cooperation between Africa and China,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel also studied TCM such as acupuncture and massage in Guangxi, as it is gaining popularity in Nigeria.
Zhang Yuge, son of the obstetrician Liao Hansu, came to Africa to accompany his mother during the Chinese New Year. The hospital staff organised a barbecue for him and a local gave him a football suit with Comoros national flag on it.
Zhang said he has made up his mind to be a surgeon when he grows up. “My mother is my role model, and I also wish to come to Africa to promote medical cooperation between China and Africa.”