Home / Lifestyle / News

Devoted doctor

By Yang Guang | China Daily | Updated: 2012-07-11 10:41

Devoted doctor

Chen Fanjing (right) tests the blood of villagers during a regular physical examination. Photos provided to China Daily

Devoted doctor

Chen Fanjing (center) leads a team conducting physical examinations three times a year.

Many medical personnel have left 'plague island' over the years in search of a better life. Chen Fanjing tells Yang Guang why he remains in Nanji.

Villagers of Nanji in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, say they owe their lives to Chen Fanjing.

"Everyone on the island knows him," 28-year-old villager Xie Wenjuan says. "He is the one who has saved many lives on this onetime 'plague island'."

Chen, 57, has been working at the local health center for 38 years, during which he has treated more than 100,000 patients and saved hundreds from the grip of death.

His focus is on preventing and treating snail fever, a chronic parasitic disease that made Nanji known as "plague island".

The villagers, mostly fishermen, are often exposed to contaminated water containing infected snails, and many contracted the disease, which causes diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and even death.

"If not for director Chen, I would have died long ago," says 74-year-old villager Xie Xinghong, who was infected by the disease more than two decades ago.

Every morning, Chen stations himself at the ferry terminal to check the lake's condition so that he will be able to steer the boat in case anyone needs to be transferred to the hospital at the nearest town, Xinjian, which is more than 70 km away. Nanji is separated from Xinjian by Poyang Lake, the country's largest freshwater lake.

Although Chen is the director of the island health center, he is not a trained medical practitioner. His pursuit of a medical degree was prematurely terminated because of a combination of reasons - poverty, poor academic base and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

Chen says not making it to medical school is his greatest regret as it was his childhood dream to be a doctor, having witnessed fellow villagers who suffered from snail disease since he was young.

"Since I was little, I've seen villagers having to travel by sailing boats to get medical treatments," he recalls. "Most of them don't survive."

After graduating from junior high school in 1970, Chen went to a medical secondary school in Xinjian for two years, before returning to work as a "barefoot doctor" (farmers with basic medical training who worked in rural villages). In 1974, he started work at the local health center, and became director of the center in 1995.

Many of Chen's colleagues have left the island to pursue a better life.

Living on the isolated island can be unbearably boring. Sometimes, even TV signals are weak.

Chen admits he once thought of leaving too.

"But after talking to my superior at that time, I decided to stay. Who else could my fellow villagers turn to for help, if I, someone who was born and bred here, left them?"

Chen and the other medical personnel are an overworked lot. Chen is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He remembers vividly one stormy night in 1991, when villager Wan Xiangping came knocking on his door at about 10 pm because of abdominal pain. It was later discovered that Wan was suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding, caused by snail fever.

Because of limited medical equipment, Chen decided to transfer Wan to the hospital in Xinjian. Together with two colleagues, they carried Wan into a fishing boat.

Darkness made it difficult to maneuver the boat. The billowing wind exacerbated the situation. "I did fear being killed if the boat sank," Chen says of that eventful night. "I kept telling myself to focus on listening to the wind to steer the boat in the right direction."

Two hours later, the boat pulled in to the shore, safe and sound. Wan survived.

Devoted doctor

Snail fever infection rate has dropped from 70 percent before 1949 to less than 2 percent now. Average life span on the island has also increased from 50 years to 70 years.

Although the medical figures are promising, Chen is staying put.

"The health center is understaffed," he says. "I feel a sense of joy knowing that I'm contributing to the well-being of the village."

Contact the writer at

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349