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Chinese medical experts help African nations fight virus

By FENG ZHIWEI and ZHENG CAIXIONG in Changsha | | Updated: 2020-08-06 17:28
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When the Chinese medical expert team arrived in Harare in mid-May, they found more than 30 COVID-19 patients were being treated in five hospitals in the capital of Zimbabwe, in the southeastern part of the African continent.

Following a suggestion by the Chinese medical experts, the patients were later concentrated in one designated hospital for treatment.

"Only when a hospital is full of COVID-19 patients should the second one start to receive COVID-19 patients," said Hu Chengping, an expert from the respiratory and critical disease department with Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, in an interview.

And in Equatorial Guinea, Chinese experts advised and helped the nation to expand screening and testing for COVID-19 patients among suspected cases to prevent and control the deadly disease, as the nation had a very low rate of testing COVID-19.

"We mainly trained local medical staff to test suspected COVID-19 patients in Equatorial Guinea, located in the middle of Africa," Hu said.

Hu, 61, a member of the 12-person Chinese medical expert team sent to Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea to help locals fight against COVID-19, recalled the relatively hard work and life she experienced in Africa after returning home in June. .

The Chinese experts, divided into two groups, usually started their work at about 7 am, taking a minibus to visit three to four local hospitals and medical institutions every day, said Hu.

"In addition to seeing patients, we had discussions and exchanges with local health officials and medical experts on preventing and controlling the pandemic and offered our valuable suggestions to help local hospitals plan and build isolation wards for infectious diseases and intensive care units," said Hu.

"We usually ate some biscuits, bread and related dry food, plus some pickles and chili sauces brought from home for lunch at 3 pm, when we returned to the minibus we hired to have a rest after work," she said.

"We could not go to local restaurants to have lunch due to the lockdown of many cities, and we did not want to burden local governments and medical institutions by having lunches in local medical institutions and companies," said Hu.

"And it was 6 pm to 7 pm when we completed the day's work and returned to the hotel," Hu said.

But many members still had to write their anti-COVID-19 diaries, improve anti-pandemic proposals combining information based on the actual situation they had learned of that day, and arrange their schedules for the next day.

Some experts could not go to bed until midnight, she said.

"Fortunately, many members of the team were young people, apart from me," said Hu.

In Africa, the Chinese experts mainly offered their valuable proposals on isolated treatment at home for mild patients, as many cities did not have the conditions for concentrated treatment at facilities as China did in previous months.

"But we provided our valuable advice to guide patients in staying home for treatment, asking that patients immediately seek medical help when their body temperature exceeds 39 C to prevent them from becoming critically ill," Hu said.

"Despite the hard work, we all thought it was worthwhile when we saw the progress the African nations made in the fight against COVID-19 in the past month," she said.

"Zimbabwe lacks medical resources, and centralized treatment for COVID-9 patients in one or two designated hospitals can help the nation relieve pressure due to a shortage of medical staff and also prevent the spread of the pandemic," said Hu.

"After COVID-19 patients have been centralized in one hospital for treatment, the other hospitals can operate as usual, offering medical treatment and service to other patients," she said.

And Equatorial Guinea, which had a total of 1,360 confirmed cases per every 1 million residents, could offer nucleic tests for only 200 people a day when the Chinese experts arrived in late May.

With the help of the experts over two weeks, the country, with an incidence of COVID-19 similar to central China's Hubei province, was able to test more than 500 residents a day when the expert team left, according to Hu.

Meanwhile, Chinese experts made videos to broadcast on local television at the request of Equatorial Guinea's prime minister to teach local residents how to deal with the coronavirus and help them raise awareness in protecting themselves from being infected with the disease.

"Only about 50 percent of the residents in Equatorial Guinea wore face masks in local streets and public venues when we had arrived in the country, and the rate increased by the time we left," she said.

"Many of China's successful experiences and therapeutic methods to fight against COVID-19 have received widespread recognition and are being introduced in the two African nations after the arrival of the Chinese experts, playing an important role in prevention and control of the pandemic," Hu said.

Zhu Yimin, deputy director-general of the Hunan Provincial Health Commission, said the Chinese experts made a special proposal on fighting COVID-19 for Zimbabwe before they left the African country.

"The 10,000-character proposal is not only a precious gift from the Chinese expert team and China, but also a life-saving technical document," the health minister of Zimbabwe was quoted as saying by Zhu, who was also the director of the Chinese expert team.

In addition to preventing and treating the disease, the proposal guided the local government on how to build hospitals for infectious diseases, and also plan and construct hospital ICUs, isolation wards and even makeshift hospitals, he said.

"The Chinese expert team has won the respect and appreciation of the local government and residents from the two African nations through their work ethic," Zhu told China Daily.

The Chinese experts were received by the president of Zimbabwe and prime minister of Equatorial Guinea for their excellent work.

Mainly consisting of senior medical experts, doctors and nurses from major hospitals in Hunan province, the 12-person Chinese expert team left Changsha, the provincial capital, for Africa on May 11, on a special plane filled with respirators, protective suits, medical masks, gloves, and related medicine and personal protective equipment.

Song Jinliang contributed to this story.

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