Yet they were prepared to volunteer for a two-year stint here, simply because of their desire, they say, to help improve the health services available here. After a short on-the-spot introduction to the actual situation throughout the country, they were posted to four regional locations.
Fourteen of them, which included six ladies were sent to Dodoma, Tabora and Mara regional hospitals, while the remaining nine: seven men and two ladies, were attached to the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), here in Dar es Salaam.
The ‘Daily News’ had the opportunity of having a brief meeting with some of these doctors, soon after they had arrived in the country before they had set out to their respective posts.
Last week, seven months after this initial meeting with the current Chinese Medical Team here, there was another opportunity to meet them, this time at their respective stations. It was while on this visit that the Dodoma Regional Hospital team leader, Dr Zhang Liufeng, a Physician, told the ‘Daily News on Saturday’ that in the beginning they all found it very difficult living and working here.
However, within a couple of months things changed for the better, as they got used to their new environment despite its limitations. “In China we seldom speak English and here the pronunciation is very different from that which we are used to. This presented various problems for all of us.
That is why we had to put more effort into learning English, with the help of the local hospital staff. They are the ones, who act as translators so that we can communicate with the patients,” she said. Dr Zhang also said that here in Tanzania, they have a larger number of hypertension, heart failure, tuberculosis (TB), typhoid and malaria cases to handle than they were used to in China.
There, she had worked in the cardiology department and have seen that the cases in this area are basically the same in nature. It is only that there are a lot more cases of these ailments here and malaria is a rarity there in China. This is why they had to be given special lessons in regards to treating such sicknesses before coming here.
They also had English language classes for six months. Having to treat an extra large number of patients than they are used to, with a limited stock of vital equipment at hand, is a daily ordeal for these Chinese doctors. Although they had come with a stock of medicine, they have discovered that these are insufficient in respect to the required amount.
However, they have not allowed this to deter them from producing the best with regards to their ability, even though it might involve some improvisation every now and then. The doctors there at Dodoma Regional Hospital cover the range of a physician, Dr Zhang; a gynaecologist, Dr Wang Xiuwei; an orthopaedist, Dr Li Xuefu; a general surgeon, Dr Liang Jiaxu; a paediatrician, Dr Ren Gushui; an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist, Dr Shi Gushua together with an eye specialist, Dr Tang Hongwei.
To be there all of them had to volunteer for what they saw as an opportunity. This meant that they had to leave their spouses and children behind. This arrangement is based on an agreement under which Chinese Medical Teams have been coming here since 1968. During this period they have provided constant support in the provision of specialist health care in local hospitals.
They have been useful in the areas of expert hospital care, provisions of medicines for various ailments, which includes malaria, together with vital equipment. It is under this arrangement that more than 1000 specialists from Shandong Province have lived and worked here, over the 44 years. Getting the opportunity to talk to the Doctor in Charge of Dodoma Regional Hospital, Dr Mzee Nassoro, a gynaecologist, was very useful.
Over his years there he has welcomed four teams of these doctors from China with much pleasure. For him the contribution made by these doctors is “great”, especially when one remembers that there are very few specialists at the hospital. “The Chinese team compliments the Government’s efforts to provide specialist services at the level of a regional hospital.
The situation prevails whereby indigenous doctors don’t cover all these specialities. Currently, we only have a gynaecologist that is me and two physicians plus a cardiologist but for the other specialities, we don’t have specialists. Therefore, when the Chinese team comes they compliment our numbers,” Dr Nassoro explained.
He further added that each time a new team comes into the country there is always an official hand-over period in which they can get familiar with the premises and staff. Any further orientation is handled by the heads of departments and in his experience he has found it takes about a week for a new team to fully adapt. He spoke highly with regards to the level of commitment these Chinese doctors devote to their work.
Not only do they dedicate a lot of their spare time towards improving their English, many of them also start learning Swahili. Another area, in which these volunteer doctors, according to Dr Nassoro, have always proved to be beneficial, is that every time a new group comes they always bring medicine and equipment.
He maintains that the presence of the Chinese Medical Team at the hospital makes a very obvious difference. At the time when the ‘Daily News on Saturday’ spoke with him, the hospital’s Acting Regional Medical Officer, Dr Zainab Chaula, a physician, who is also the head of the Internal Medicine Department, was present.
Within her 26 years at that hospital she has worked with many doctors from China. She was very proud of the fact that her last born child back in 1998, was delivered by a Chinese gynaecologist. She praised them for not only providing valuable knowledge and skills but also increasing their stock of medical equipment and medicine. Working together with the Chinese doctors, she maintains has proved to be very beneficial for both visiting and resident staff at all levels.
However, Dr Chaula also said that the coming of the Chinese Medical Team to Tanzania and specifically the region should not bring about a state of complacency by resident doctors, towards reaching targeted numbers in the various regional hospitals. In the case of Dodoma, they are supposed to have 20 specialist doctors but as mentioned above only have four. Local efforts to increase stock of medicine and equipment should also continue.
All seven doctors spoken to in Dodoma Region had a similar story, as was the case with the seven in Tabora and Mara regions. The team leader at Kitete Regional Hospital in Tabora, Dr Fan Xiao Sheng, a physician told the ‘Daily News on Saturday’ the first difficulty they had to adjust to was the dryness of Tabora when they arrived. Now that the season has changed it is more agreeable to them. The other thing was to make do with less of a variety of green vegetables to what they are used to back home in China.
“When the Tanzanian people look at us they always see that we are Chinese doctors so greet us in Chinese. We’re very proud of this. But it’s sad to see that Kitete Hospital is a very big hospital but has a lack of doctors, which results in creating a serious problem here,” Dr Fan said.
Having majored in cardiology, he takes an extra interest in the fact that many patients he receives suffer from problems related to the area of the heart. Further, in many cases these patients usually come to the hospital very late. This greatly limits the chances of fixing the problems. The first thing that would help relieve this undesirable situation, he suggested is to train more doctors and to increase the various branches of areas in which they specialise.
Added to this is to increase equipment and medicine stock. Dr Fan’s colleagues: a paediatrician, Dr Zhang Xia and ENT specialist, Dr Bi Jing yu, expressed similar sentiments, as did those in Mara Regional Hospital: gynaecologist Dr Liu Ping, surgeon Dr Su Shi Ke, ENT specialist Dr Feng Lie and physician Dr Zhao Liang. In a telephone conversation with their team leader, Dr Liu, she said due to the friendliness of the local staff when they arrived there, helped make their adjustment to the new environment easier.
They have experienced similar language problems as their colleagues in Dodoma and Tabora regions did, together with frequent power cuts, which prevented them doing some crucial operations. However, according to Dr Liu, all of them are still very happy that they came because the locals are very friendly to them and provide any assistance they can, despite their relatively poor life-style.
It was only in the case of those members of the current Chinese Medical Team, who were posted to the MNH that according to their leader, Cardiac Surgeon Dr Jiao Qi, that they found some satisfaction in working equipment. He said all of them quickly adjusted to living in three dormitories here. The biggest difference he found at the MNH was that surgeons performed one operation a day, as opposed to two to three, as is the case in China.
Also, whereas surgeons in China went to the theatre at eight o’clock in the mornings and started operating soon after this, here at the MNH they come after nine and operations rarely start before noon. This he puts down to cultural differences. He is pleased to see the general attitude of patience but feel sorry that they have to wait long before they get treatment.
Everyone in the team: cardiac surgeon Dr Zhang Lei, cardiologist Dr Zhao Chengjun, neurologist Dr Qi Zaili, ENT Specialist Dr Wang Rehnxia, eye specialist Dr Xia Wonqing, physiologist Dr Chen Shuzheng and anaesthetists Dr Yong Qiong and Dr Ren Dahna, have local specialists to work with.