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Medical team heads for Tibet
By Qin Jize (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-03 23:46

The remote villages on the highlands of Tibet look like something on a geographic map. People there might be close to heaven in location -- but their lives could not be further away.

In fact it is the high altitudes and and remoteness of the villages that put them in need of medical help.

Polish doctor Leszek Ratuszniak is joining a team of nine volunteers, including five doctors, who are going to visit some of the poverty-stricken areas in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and offer medical treatment -- for free.

The group will set out to spread mother and baby health information among local residents, train medical staff and ultimately improve medical services in underdeveloped areas in Tibet.

Their specific destination is the Ali area, the most western region of Tibet, and its average altitude is more than 4,500 metres.

The high altitude and people's reactions to it are among the difficulties of travelling to Tibet.

A senior doctor at the health care centre advised the volunteers to take care not to catch respiratory diseases, such as colds.

This is part of the project dubbed "Life belongs to love: Mother and infant safety 120 action," launched by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation in late 2000.

The network, which has a data bank on women, has kept a close watch on mothers in several provinces all over China, who have been classified by doctors as having a risky delivery in the past four years.

This year the target is the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The maternity mortality rate in Tibet in 2001 was 327.27 per 100,000. The national maternity and infant mortality rate was 43.2 per 100,000 for 2002, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

"It is because people have no basic life-support training," said Hua Ke, staff with the Foundation, also the leader of the volunteers.

"They are delivering babies on dirt floors," Hua said.

In addition to a donation by a Beijing-based home-decorating company of medical equipment worth 300,000 yuan (US$36,276), a medical task force for aid has been set up and opened to the public.

About 120 people signed up to join it, 20 of whom were foreigners from countries as diverse as Poland, Afghanistan and India.

Five doctors and four other helpers have been chosen, and subject to their medical checks will set out on August 12 for their 20-day mission of mercy, in a place where the valley bottoms are higher than the highest mountains in most of the rest of the world.

A graduate from the postgraduate programme of Beijing No 3 Hospital in 1994, Leszek now works for the Polish Embassy in China. He acts as an exclusive doctor for the Polish national women's football team when they play in Asia.

"I went to Lhasa (capital of Tibet Autonomous Region) more than ten years ago," he said. "That was only for fun and this time is totally different, I am going there to help the people."

Leszek, 35, was among the first group of foreigners who received doctor's licences in China last September.

He always takes his annual vacation in August and travels around the world. This year the journey means much more than just sight-seeing.

"Chinese friends say that I am Dr Bethune in the new age," he said. "But I do not think I am. I am not qualified to have that honor."

Dr Norman Bethune was a Canadian surgeon who risked his life to support China during the anti-Japanese War. He died in 1939 of blood poisoning contracted during an operation on a Chinese soldier.

Leszek said he wanted to gain a completely new experience in Tibet's magical land by helping others.

The other four Chinese doctors going on the trip to Tibet have never been there before.

"Helping someone to improve their life is what I should do as a doctor," said Yu Jiufei, a senior doctor in his late 30s. "I really treasure this opportunity."

He said he was doing exercises to keep fit to prepare.

Zhang Shuhua, 25, a graduate from Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the youngest candidate among the five.

"The eye-opening part about going up there is to help me to understand there are people in the world who struggle so hard to live. I will have no problems when I am back home compared to the challenges those folks live with every day," she said.

Nurse Wang, 45, has first-hand knowledge of the fact that not all people are as lucky as these five doctors.

She worked for one year on the Qinghai Plateau.

"It was a life-changing experience because those people live with so little and they are so appreciative of all that's being done for them," she said.

"That is why when I heard of it, I didn't feel that I wanted to do this, but that I needed to do this."

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