From China with love and care
Updated: 2013-06-19 08:10
By Peng Yining (China Daily)
China Daily reporter Peng Yining is on board the hospital ship Peace Ark and will bring us regular reports throughout its 118-day aid voyage.
Wu Yu says goodbye to his wife and 3-year-old daughter before hospital ship Peace Ark leaves Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, for an aid tour to some Asian nations and the Gulf of Aden. ZHANG HAO / FOR CHINA DAILY
This is Liu Baichen's third ocean voyage. The 48-year-old ophthalmologist is again traveling with Chinese hospital ship No 866, nicknamed Peace Ark, on a four-month medical mission overseas.
On a previous Peace Ark mission to Djibouti in 2010, Liu cured a man from the slums who had lost his sight to cataracts. When Liu removed the bandages from the patient's eyes after the operation, the 53-year-old man jumped up from his bed and hugged him.
"For three years, he had been living in darkness, but suddenly he could see again," said Liu. "I couldn't understand his language but I could see the excitement in his face and eyes. The joy of being healthy is universal."
Liu said regaining his sight meant the patient was no longer a burden on his poverty-stricken family and he was able to start a new life.
"As a doctor, I felt so proud to see him smile," said Liu, who has been an ophthalmologist at the General Hospital of the Chinese Navy in Beijing for 23 years. "I have been working in China for a long time, and now I am able to help people in other countries."
At the sound of a steam whistle, Peace Ark, a 178-meter-long white vessel with red crosses painted on her decks and sides, sailed from the port of Zhoushan in East China's Zhejiang province on June 10. During the voyage, she will visit eight countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan and India, providing free medical services to the local population.
Responsibility and capability
"As the world's second-largest economy, China has the responsibility and the capability to provide humanitarian services to people across the world," said Guo Fenghai, professor of Marxism studies at the PLA National Defense University. "In the era of globalization, international cooperation has played an important role in China's development, and, in return, the world should also benefit from China's growth."
During her first two missions, in 2010 and 2011, the Peace Ark visited nine countries in Southern Asia, Africa and South America, providing medical services to more than 23,000 people, 215 operations have been performed.
First Person | Shen Hao
The Peace Ark voyage is an important military and diplomatic mission. For me, it is a great responsibility and a great honor to be the commander.
This trip is the first significant diplomatic task undertaken by the Chinese navy since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November. The voyage is intended to develop friendly relations with neighboring countries and also to raise the profile of the Chinese navy.
It will be the first time the Peace Ark has participated in a large-scale joint drill with ASEAN, and also the first time that the vessel has provided medical services for foreign soldiers and officers serving in the Gulf of Aden.
China has long participated in global humanitarian affairs and supported the work of many international organizations, including the World Health Organization.
In the past five decades, Chinese medical aid teams have helped more than 260 million people across the globe. In the past five years, the country has sent medical teams to countries on more than 200 occasions to provide humanitarian aid after natural disasters and severe outbreaks of disease.
This year's mission will help to improve multinational cooperation in disaster rescue and military medicine. It will also be an opportunity for people from overseas to gain a deeper understanding of China and her navy.
Shen Hao was talking to Peng Yining and Ju Zhenhua
The surgery isn't cheap. Liu said a regular cataract operation costs at least 6,000 yuan ($980) in China, although the cost varies from country to country. On previous voyages, many patients consulted him aboard the Peace Ark, either because they couldn't afford the treatment or would have to wait as long as a year to undergo surgery at a local hospital because medical resources were so scarce.
"But more importantly, they trusted the Chinese doctors," Liu said. "The world has witnessed China's development, and people understand that Chinese medical technology has developed as well."
During the 2010 mission, the ship's medical staff helped to deliver a baby girl to a woman with acute heart disease.
Lu Jianguo, a naval officer, said: "That was a close call. Both mother and baby were at their last gasp when they came to our hospital ship. The baby's father burst into tears when he held his child."
Lu said he now fully understands how that man felt, because his son was born just one month before the ship sailed from Zhoushan.
"He was so small and vulnerable when I held him in my arms for the first time. Suddenly he kicked a little. I will never forget that moment. It was the first time I felt that I was really a father."
However, he has now bid his family farewell and joined the four-month voyage. "It wasn't an easy decision. I feel sorry for my wife and my son," said Lu. "But if my mission makes people overseas feel as healthy and happy as I do with my family, then it will be worth being apart for four months."
With fair breezes and smooth seas into the tropics, the Peace Ark sailed south. As the voyage progressed, the soft, sweet tropical air mingled with the fresh smell of the sea and gave the crew of more than 400 soldiers, sailors, officers and medical staff a delightful experience of ocean travel.
On Saturday, the ship arrived at its first port of call in Brunei, where the crew participated in a joint humanitarian drill held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus. It was the first time the ship had participated in a large-scale joint drill with ASEAN.
Before each mission, the Peace Ark asks the local authorities for permission to treat residents and pledges to respect the local culture and religion, according to Wang Zhihui, director of the mission's medical crew. Every medical procedure is carried out with the patient's consent.
Wang said China has sent medical experts to all the countries the Peace Ark will visit to conduct research into local health care needs. He used cataracts as an example, saying the condition is a common problem in the tropics because of the prevalence of strong ultraviolet rays.
The Peace Ark's ophthalmology team is one of the best in its field and its equipment is state of the art.
Doctors from the Peace Ark perform surgery on local residents at a temporary clinic in Mombasa during the hospital ship’s first mission in 2010. PHOTOS BY JU ZHENHUA / FOR CHINA DAILY