“I can see now! See it!”, the 79-year-old Yao Jiaxiu exclaimed as the gauze on the eyes were slowly unveiled. She had been previously unable to see her family and the Mount Siguniang in the distance for more than three years.
Living in Meiluo Village, Meiwo Township, the Xiaojin County in Sichuan Province, Yao Jiaxiu is the first patient receiving cataract surgery in the Wenzhou Medical University (WMU)-Xiaojin County Joint Ophthalmology & Optometry Center. Thousands of Tibetan people like Yao Jiaxiu have benefited from WMU’s philanthropic program entitled “Project Guangming for Sichuan-Tibet-Qinghai Plateau” .
From making surgery tour to building the Joint Center
“Your health is our mission!”. A medical team spearheaded by the Affiliated Eye Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University travelled thousands of miles to the Tibetan area in 2012, and thus starting their 7-year long journey of love in Maduo and Jiuzhi in Qinghai Province, Seda, Litang, Kangding, Tagong, and Rangtang in Sichuang Province and Lhasa, Tibet. In the past seven years, funded and supported by the “Project Guangming for Sichuan-Tibet-Qinghai Plateau”, more than 21,000 cases of eye disease screening and nearly 2,000 cases of eye surgery have been completed to help many poor patients living in the Tibetan area to regain and improve vision.
People living in Xiaojin County located on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have high incidence of eye diseases due to lack of oxygen, strong ultraviolet rays and low air pressure characterizing Tibetan area. Last year, the People’s Hospital of Xiaojin County treated more than 1,500 patients suffering eye problems, accounting for 70% of the total outpatient service. Due to limited medical and economic conditions, it is more difficult for people in the Tibetan area to seek medical help. Poverty or returning to poverty due to eye disease has become a major “road blocker” on the road to poverty alleviation.
Due to high incidence of eye diseases in Tibetan area, it is obviously difficult to meet the needs of people simply by dispatching medical/surgery vehicles around or temporarily setting up operating rooms. The Joint Ophthalmology & Optometry Center (Joint Center) was thus created to make remote medical consultation a reality. We can imagine that Ophthalmology & Optometry experts in Wenzhou, thousands miles away, may conduct a consultation and gave a detailed treatment plan for patients like Luo Kaiying sitting in the consultation room of the Joint Center through a remote outpatient platform.
Recently, the Affiliated Eye Hospital of WMU took the initiative to launch the National Eye &Vision Alliance, set up remote medical consultation platforms in 8 partner assistance units, and regularly carried out appointment outpatient services in Qinghai, Guizhou, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia in addition to Sichuan. “In addition to timely assistance to poor patients, the poverty alleviation-associated medical consultation can play a role in teaching, helping and leading local doctors to continuously improve the level of clinical services of the grassroots doctors through real consultation cases. ” said Tu Changsen, Director of the Project Bright Eyes Office at the Affiliated Eye Hospital of WMU. He said the Joint Center provides a real base for “Project Guangming for Sichuan-Tibet-Qinghai Plateau” and makes accurate poverty alleviation efforts more efficient.
Cultivate ophthalmologists in Tibetan areas
The reason why Tibetans have the problem of getting medical service is largely due to the lack of local medical talents. “In places like Xiaojin, hospital hardware such as working space and equipment is fairly good. However, the most difficult problem facing the hospital is its software including talents.” said Wang Yuhua, Director of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Deputy Director of Xiaojin County People’s Hospital. She said: “It is very important to improve the skills of our local doctors and train doctors who are willing to stay and take root in here. ”
To establish a long-term workable poverty alleviation model, Project Guangming has been committed to conducting various short-term training or refreshing programs for doctors, nurses and vision-related special education teachers in partner Tibetan areas. It aims to promote the change from health care-related poverty alleviation to locally sustainable development by cultivating more local “bright vision ambassadors”.
In 2017, WMU and the People’s Hospital of Xiaojin County became partners to establish a long-term aid relationship of three years per term. According to the needs of the talent planning of the People’s Hospital of Xiaojin County, WMU will train doctors, nurses and technicians to build a medical team that will stay and work for the hospital. At present, WMU has trained 17 ophthalmologists for the Tibetan area, and will train university medical talents tailored for Tibetan area in the future.
Finding a road of “three forming a whole” for poverty alleviation
It has not been smooth sailing for the Project in the past seven years. “At the beginning, it relied on us and non-governmental/non-profit organizations to carry out all activities. The cumbersome preparatory communication cost us a lot of energy. For example, it sometimes may take more than 10 times of contacting to rent a venue for an event. ” Admitted Chen Jie, Director of Low Vision Department, the Affiliated Eye Hospital of WMU. Poor communication, lack of organizational preparation, and inaccurate information matching caused the public welfare team to encounter many troubles in carrying out health care and poverty alleviation work.
To solve the problem, WMU has been actively striving for getting the support of governments at all levels and exploring a model of poverty alleviation involving multiple parties. The “Project Guangming” in Xiaojin County has received full attention and strong support from the party committees and governments of Wenzhou and the Aba Autonomous Prefecture of Tibetan and Qiang Nationalities. In addition, the Science and Technology Department of Zhejiang Province included the Project in the Zhejiang Science and Technology Farming Benefiting Program.
In November 2017, WMU signed a cooperation agreement with the People’s Hospital of Xiaojin County to build a Joint Ophthalmology & Optometry Center. With equipment provided by Wenzhou and funds invested by Xiaojin County for the design and construction of the Joint Center, the County People’s Hospital’s Ophthalmology & Optometry Department grew from scratch in just three months with its number of consultation rooms being nearly tripled and medical service capabilities being greatly improved as Ultrasound A/B, fundus camera, comprehensive refractometer, emulsification machine, YAG laser and other equipment were newly added. Social charities were also actively involved in the poverty alleviation work of the Joint Center by providing subsidies for patients undergoing surgery.
The Joint Center is a model of multi-party cooperation and has become another important achievement of Wenzhou’s partner assistance to Aba Prefecture.
“Our ‘Project Guangming’ has now been a three-in-one cooperation featuring university implementation, government support, and social participation. It is an embodiment of the continuously maturing and improving poverty alleviation work.” said Lu Fan, Secretary of the Party Committee of WMU.