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Chinese doctors in Guinea tackle Ebola with limited resources

2014-08-15 09:08 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

Cao Guang, a doctor at the Anzhen Hospital in Beijing, has been living in Africa for two years on an exchange assignment. But months before he was due to return home, he was caught in the middle of the region's most serious epidemic outbreak in years.

About five months ago, when the general Chinese public didn't know anything about the Ebola outbreak, a team of Chinese medical experts were already facing the risk of death every day.

Cao was one of the 19 people on the Anzhen Hospital's expert team sent to the China-Guinea Friendship Hospital in Conakry, capital of Guinea, in 2012 as part of a tradition to help out with medical practices there. The team encountered the Ebola outbreak, and Cao has even been quarantined.

Shocking practices

Cao was shocked at how unprofessionally the surgeries were carried out when he first went to Guinea, the Beijing Evening News reported. In one case, after a routine appendectomy, the doctor started cleaning the wound with bottled water bought on the street.

According to medical regulations, wounds should be cleaned and washed with saline solution, Cao told the newspaper. But in Guinea, the doctors would even use bottled water to clean wounds in the brain.

After the surgery, Cao told his coworkers that saline solution should be used at all times to wash wounds. Afterwards, infection rates among patients were reduced from 50 to 5 percent.

But in many other cases, the lack of medicines presents a major hurdle to medical professionals trying to carry out their normal duties.

Che Hao, an anesthetist from Anzhen Hospital, told the Beijing Evening News that the drug hospitals use for general anesthesia in Guinea has not been used in China for 40 years, but he still has to use it because there's no alternative.

And when low medical standards meet with a serious epidemic like Ebola, there is very little cause for optimism.

Cao wrote on his Weibo that many Chinese workers in Guinea called the medical team to learn about the epidemic. However, at the hospital itself, there's no established system for generating reports about epidemics.

"The hospital here doesn't have a department on infectious diseases and has low protection against them," he wrote. "We only have one towel in the surgery room and keep using it even when it's bloody. Sometimes we don't even have surgical uniforms and go in with our ordinary clothes."

Fighting the disease

On March 17, Cao received a patient who was suffering fever, nausea and was constantly throwing up. He suggested that the patient undergo a CT scan to see if there was any cerebral hemorrhage. The patient died four days later.

Cao remembers clearly that on the day of death the patient's eyes were red as a rabbit's, he wrote.

A couple of days later, on March 24, Cao received a phone message from the government announcing there was an Ebola outbreak. The next day, Cao's team leader, Kong Qingyu, officially announced the existence of such a virus.

Cao wrote that the team, especially clinical doctors, had all experienced the SARS outbreak in 2003 and were optimistic about surviving the virus.

A few days later, the patient Cao received was diagnosed as having Ebola, becoming the first sufferer in the capital. Immediately, tensions rose in the hospital. Cao wrote that the team's residence faced strict precautions, the kitchen was thoroughly cleaned and everybody ate at home. All team members were also given a thermometer to take their own body temperature every night.

The patients diagnosed with Ebola were quarantined. Cao's medical team was strictly managed and the patients had to be registered and be ruled out of having Ebola before they could be treated by the team.

The newest data from the WHO shows that 1,779 were diagnosed as infected with Ebola and 961 died from the disease.

Cao wrote that the WHO and Doctors Without Borders are also helping with the disease and he thinks they are playing a key role in keeping the epidemic under control.

Under quarantine

Even though help came at the time it was most needed, unexpected cases are still occurring.

Cao wrote that in April, his African coworker Dr. Gassimou, and a nurse, Madamu Camara, died from Ebola. Cao was also quarantined at that time.

Cao had been careless when living on his own, but when Ebola struck, he became extremely cautious.

When he got up in the morning, he checked himself in front of the mirror to see whether his eyes had turned red like those of the patient's; when he got even a little dizzy, he became nervous and wondered whether it was a symptom of the disease.

Normally, he only drank water when he was thirsty, but during the quarantine, he forced himself to drink water.

Kong said that once he gave Cao a box of nutrition pills that were said to have the ability to fight the virus.

"I know Ebola is putting him under a lot of pressure," he told the Beijing Evening News.

On April 14, the quarantine ended. Cao wrote on his Weibo, "I know now that being alive is a beautiful thing."

Afterwards, Cao carried on with his job. A netizen commented on Cao's Weibo, "Some people are saving the world where you can't see." To this, Cao wrote that as a doctor, he was only trying to do his job, despite the difficulties.

"I don't have the ability to overcome the virus, I'm just glad I didn't fall into its trap," he wrote.

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