Peace Ark brings new wave of medical aid

By Jiang Chenglong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-06 09:18
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A doctor from Peace Ark, a hospital ship operated by the PLA Navy, provides medical treatment at the Maputo School for the Disabled in Maputo, Mozambique, in November 2017. JIANG SHAN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Unusual 'thank-you' note

"Thank you very much for helping us, Peace Ark! I love you very much, China! Goodbye!"

Those words were a thank-you note left for the doctors and nurses on the hospital ship by a family in the Philippines. However, far beyond Zhang Hongbing's expectations, the message was not written on paper, in a book or even on a piece of board — instead, it was, scrawled on a makeshift diaper.

Zhang, a 33-year-old physician has been working on the hospital ship since he graduated from university in 2012. From a medical graduate to junior doctor, he has witnessed most of the unforgettable stories that have happened on the ship in the past decade.

The diaper message was written in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan — one of the strongest tropical storms to hit the North Pacific Ocean in the 21st century — pounded the Philippines (where it was known as Super Typhoon Yolanda) causing tens of thousands of deaths and injuries.

A pregnant woman was in a desperate state as she was due to give birth, but the overwhelmed local medical facilities were unable to provide the necessary treatment.

In desperation, her family turned to the PLA ship, which was conducting an urgent rescue mission in the country.

The woman gave birth safely in the operating room. However, there weren't any diapers for newborns on the ship, so the nurses cut clean bedsheets into squares and used them on the baby.

When the family was about to leave the vessel, the father grabbed a square of linen and wrote his thank-you note.

The message touched the crew members so deeply that they still keep the diaper safe and sound.

For Zhang, who traveled outside of China early in his career, the gesture proved that sincerity between peoples from different nations can work both ways, even if international relations are at a low ebb. "As long as you treat people well and sincerely, they will definitely feel it and will treat you the same way," he said.

"Before we docked at the port, small groups of patients were transported to the ship to receive free nursing, medicines and surgeries," Zhang said. "As our reputation spread, more and more local people turned to us for help."

In late 2013, at the request of the Philippine government, China sent medical supplies and related equipment. Peace Ark was ordered to head immediately to the Asian country, despite officially being at rest after completing a 125-day mission to provide volunteer medical services to people in eight countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

Nevertheless, when the order to assemble came, Zhang and his 400 colleagues gathered from various parts of China within 48 hours, and the ship was the first foreign medical vessel to arrive and provide assistance in the Philippines.

In the two weeks that followed, 2,208 local people were treated on the ship, where 44 surgeries were conducted and four babies were born, according to official data.

"No matter what country you come from or what color you are, when you sit in front of me you are just a patient and I am just a doctor who is there to treat your illness," Zhang said.

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