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Project is a gift that keeps giving to poorer patients across the countryside

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-27 10:34
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Lifeline Express, a project that converts trains into mobile hospitals for cataract operations, is expected to provide free surgeries for 8,000 patients in seven provincial-level regions this year, according to the project operator.

Three hospital trains set off from Beijing in the first half of the year.

They were scheduled to call at the provinces of Henan, Guangdong, Shandong, Shanxi and Jilin, and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to offer operations for the financially challenged, especially people living in far-flung areas, said the Chinese Foundation for Lifeline Express. The project was launched in 1997 as a gift to the Chinese mainland from the people of Hong Kong to commemorate the city's return to the motherland.

"Before the eve of Hong Kong's return, different regions across the mainland were preparing presents for Hong Kong," said Nellie Fong, founding chairperson of the Lifeline Express Hong Kong Foundation, when interviewed by Xinhua News Agency earlier this year.

"At the time, I was serving on the Preparatory Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It occurred to me that it would only be right for Hong Kong to give something back to our mainland compatriots."

Fong learned that many rural mainland residents had lost their sight due to cataracts and a lack of medical intervention. In response, the first hospital train departed Hong Kong in 1997, making its maiden stop in Anhui province.

The fleet has gradually grown to four trains, with each one visiting three remote areas on the mainland annually, performing around 1,000 cataract operations during each three-month stop.

By July, the project had restored the sight of more than 230,000 cataract patients in 28 provincial-level regions and five countries along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative, the foundation said.

The oldest train was put into service in 1997. It was officially retired in 2019 and is permanently housed at the China Railway Museum in Beijing.

In March, the train — which has been transformed into a museum that details the project's history and surgical outcomes — was opened to the public.

Hu Meiqi, deputy director of the National Health Commission's International Health Exchange and Cooperation Center which oversees the project, said Lifeline Express has become an important force in preventing and treating blindness, and helping to promote the rural vitalization program.

"Notably, the project has also set up 91 eye care centers at the grassroots level and trained a number of local eye doctors," she said.

Hu added that management of Lifeline Express missions has been upgraded in recent years as the NHC rolled out more than 30 rules, regulations and standards, and used information technology to maximize outcomes while reducing costs.

In addition, since 2014, the project has established 41 screening centers for diabetic retinopathy — a condition that can cause impaired vision and blindness in people with diabetes — across the country.

"More than 300 eye doctors at the grassroots level have now obtained the qualification to screen patients for diabetic retinopathy. In total, about 270,000 people have been examined at the centers and around 8,000 have been found to have the condition," Fong said.

"Patients with the condition are promptly directed to specialized hospitals to lower the risk of them losing their vision."


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