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Chinese medical team: angels in white coats

Updated: 2013-08-15

In April 1963, a 13 person-strong Chinese medical team on an international train from Beijing to Moscow detoured to Algeria in North Africa. Their trip opened the great cause of Chinese medical aid provision to foreign countries that has spanned five continents and lasted for half a century.

 "The Chinese medical team is a group of outstanding experts"

After Algeria became independent in 1962 the French colonists withdrew their doctors to France. The Algerian government appealed to the international community to send medical teams to help them. Li Jiahui, then deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Health, recalled that on New Year's Day in 1963, China first announced to the world that it would send a medical team to help Algeria.

The Chinese medical team saved the wounded and rescued the dying. They quickly won the hearts of the Algerian people and formed a fraternal friendship with them. Regardless of the flames of war or the spread of the plague, the Chinese medical team always arrived where the patients needed them most. In the past 50 years, they have traveled to Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Oceania, treating 270 million patients free of charge.

Mutasiva, chief medical officer of the Mhibli Hospital in Tanzania, said: "They touched the hearts of many Tanzanians, and their humanitarian assistance surpassed many other countries." In December 1974, an accident patient in Algeria was sent to the Chinese medical team. Yang Bingsheng, an orthopedic doctor, together with other Chinese doctors, bravely took on the almost impossible operation.

"The section was relatively neat, but the lower arteries, veins, nerves, and tendons were difficult to distinguish, and there was no instrument to confirm," Yang recalled. Under extremely simplistic conditions, the success of this operation was a miracle. Tehes Jeffrey, the consultant of the Algerian Presidential Office, sent a congratulatory message to the Chinese medical team. After the operation, the Algerian boy's hand recovered well. Later, he even started playing Chinese table tennis. 

In 2004, in the ophthalmology center in Zanzibar, Chinese doctors carefully removed gauze from an African woman who had undergone cataract surgery. The old patient finally opened her eyes. She grabbed the neck of Chinese female doctor Chen Shu and said with surprise: "I can see the stars in the sky again! Thank you!"

In the past 50 years, Chinese doctors have been fighting infectious and common diseases and introduced high-tech medical techniques such as cardiac surgery, tumor removal, limb replacement, and minimally invasive medicine to many countries. Acupuncture, oxibustion and other traditional Chinese medicine treatments have also been provided.

The Chinese government has helped hundreds of hospitals in African countries and donated a large volume of medical equipment and medicine to meet the urgent needs of many African countries. The medical team members in China have also trained medical personnel in the recipient countries through clinical teaching and academic lectures, leaving behind a “Chinese medical team that does not leave". 

"In the past 8 years in Africa, I have encountered four coups."

Jin Wenwei, the chief physician from the Affiliated Hospital of Hangzhou Normal University, has participated in the medical teams four times since 2000 and spent eight full years in Central Africa.

"In the past eight years, I have encountered four coups." Jin Wenwei said, "China and Africa in wartime need medical assistance more than usual. We must successfully accomplish our mission."

Jin and his teammates felt the danger and received calls from their families to urge them to return home. However, even at the most critical moments, they remained in the fiercest battlefields day and night to guard the lives of the people.

Of the 13 countries in the four hardship regions of the world, Chinese medical teams have been to 12. More than half of the medical team members work in remote and impoverished areas. In many areas, political turmoil is frequent. Almost every medical team member has had malaria, and some members have had it more than a dozen times in two years. 

Over the past 50 years, Chinese medical team members have provided good care to the people of the recipient countries with their fearless patriotism and internationalist sentiments. So far, 1001 members have received various honors such as medals from the heads of national governments. Fifty medical members have died in overseas due to illness, work injury, war, accidents and so on. The spirit of the Chinese medical team, "Not afraid of hardship, willingness to sacrifice, saving the wounded and helping the wounded, and caring for people without borders", is widely praised and passed on from generation to generation.


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