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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: September 19, 2011 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 22, 2011
Healing Angels from China
Medical teams from China fight death and disease in the harshest environments in Africa

WORKING TOGETHER: Jiamala Taib, President of the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, with members of the Chinese medical team, including Geng Ning and Lu Jianlin (fourth and sixth from left), in Zanzibar, Tanzania (COURTESY OF LU JIANLIN)

One Sunday in early August, Chen Zhufeng, chief of a Chinese medical team in Tanzania, drove to check the water supply for his members in Tabora, a water-is-life place in Tanzania. Walking by a small reservoir, he was stopped by an old woman. She held up several eggs in her hands, begging Chen to accept them.

She told Chen Chinese doctors brought her critically ill grandson back to life several days before. Those eggs were the only valuables her impoverished family had to offer. "Please take them. This is the only way I can express my gratitude," she said. Chen accepted her eggs, but paid her several times the normal price for them.

Things like this often happen to Chinese doctors working in Tanzania, Chen said in an interview with Beijing Review in Dar es Salaam. "Although we overpay people on these occasions, we are very gratified to help them and make their lives better."

According to the Chinese Ministry of Health, 981 Chinese medical team members are working in 41 African nations. They have left their families and well-paid jobs to work in Africa during the peak years of their careers. Many places on this continent have the toughest medical conditions imaginable. But the contributions made by Chinese medical teams have won sincere respect from the people they serve.

Whenever a Chinese doctor meets local people, he will receive warm greetings of "Chinese doctor, my friend," Chen said.


Last year, China and Tanzania jointly celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first Chinese medical team coming to Tanzania. China now has two medical teams working in Tanzania. The teams are based respectively in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.

Deo M. Mtasiva, Chief Medical Officer of Tanzania's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said there have been over 20 Chinese medical teams working in the country, and all the teams have been marvelous. He said many Chinese doctors are working in highly deprived and remote areas like Tabora, Dodoma and Musoma, where conditions are extremely difficult due to severe water shortages.

"They are warm-hearted, dedicated, highly skilled and endlessly take time to help our people," said Mtasiva.

The most important contribution China has made to health care in Tanzania is the establishment of a cardiac surgery treatment and training center in Dar es Salaam, he said. The center, built by China as part of its medical assistance, is scheduled to open in September or October.

The center has three operating theaters, over a dozen cardiac intensive care units (ICUs) under 24-hour supervision, and 10 more regular wards. In addition to Chinese doctors, the center will gather the best doctors and nurses in Tanzania, most of whom have received medical training in China, India and Europe.

"Even in China, such a center is of top-class," Chen said.

Chen, who heads a 25-member medical team dispatched by China's Shandong Province, has been working in Tanzania for eight years. He had a good job in China at an immunobiology lab at a famous hospital in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province. Chen came to Tanzania in 2003 as a medical team member and has been chief of the team since 2009.

"When I came to Tanzania for the first time, I was scared of deadly infectious diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever and AIDS," he recalled. "But people here are nice, warm-hearted, and friendly to us. Plus, they are really in need of our help."

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