October 10, 2022
BEIJING – There was a brief moment when Sheng Jian found himself questioning his decision to join the Chinese medical team in Lesotho.
The surgeon from Wuhan, in Hubei province, had signed up for the mission without hesitation, but had just pricked his finger while performing surgery on an HIV-positive patient.
Surgeons in the landlocked southern African country, which the World Bank says has an HIV prevalence rate of 25 percent in people ages 15 to 49, are at high risk of contracting the virus.
The 28 days of post-exposure prophylaxis were an ordeal, but Sheng distracted himself from the side effects of the medications, as well as the considerable mental stress, by dealing with counseling and surgery.
Recalling the relief he felt when he learned his results were negative, Sheng said he plans to be more careful, but will not let the incident, which occurred in May, make him waver.
Sheng is a member of the 16th team sent by China to provide medical assistance in Lesotho, and after his arrival in March, the 45-year-old became one of only two general surgeons at the hospital.
On Wednesdays he does outpatient counseling. It’s the day he usually gets a lot of complicated cases, and Sheng said he was sometimes so busy working on Wednesdays during the winter, which lasts from June to August, that he didn’t have time to eat.
It gets dark around five o’clock during the winter in Lesotho, so Sheng had to finish with the outpatients at three o’clock. Later, it would be too dangerous for many to make the journey home, often on horseback or donkey, along the country’s winding mountain roads.
Thursdays aren’t much quieter, as this is the day of surgery, Sheng estimates that the number of general surgeries has at least doubled since he started working at the hospital.
The increased workload has prompted complaints from some of the nurses. “My interns told me the other day that the OR staff call my day of surgery ‘Black Thursday,’” she said with a laugh.
But he has kept up his pace, performing at least eight surgeries almost every Thursday, doing his best to treat the critically ill who would otherwise have to be rushed to hospitals in the capital, Maseru, which is two hours away by car. auto.
Sheng is also on call for emergency surgeries on weekends and has treated a variety of cases, including road injuries, burns, stomach and breast tumors, and hernias. She gets a strong sense of satisfaction from the recognition of her work.
One Thursday in August, he took a break from surgery after being called to the outpatient department to help a boy with a splinter in his foot.
The boy, who was in great pain at first, jumped for joy when the surgeon was finally able to remove the splinter from a deep wound.
Shopping at a hardware store a few days later, he ran into the boy’s mother, who was the store’s cashier.
“She looked at me and said, ‘You’re the doctor.'”
It took him a while to remember who the woman was.
“Then he introduced me to his co-workers at the store loudly and happily. At that time, I felt that all my efforts paid off,” Sheng said.
As part of China’s medical assistance to Africa, Hubei province has sent medical teams to Lesotho since 1997.
Members of Sheng’s team were selected from departments of internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, orthopedics, radiology, acupuncture and anesthesiology at tertiary hospitals in Wuhan, according to the provincial health commission.
Hubei also sent 10 medical experts to Lesotho and Angola in September 2020 for three weeks to help with pandemic responses.
China began sending medical teams to Africa in 1963, when it selected its best doctors from cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan and sent them to Algeria at the request of the Algerian government.
Since then, 28,000 medical team members have been dispatched to 73 countries and regions around the world, diagnosing and treating 290 million people, according to the National Health Commission.
Sheng said he had long been inspired to work in Africa by those around him, including a fellow medical school student who provided medical care in Botswana for six years after graduating. He said that he was intrigued and that he wanted to go to Africa to experience “a different kind of life.”
After all these months in Lesotho, the surgeon is deeply moved by the level of respect and trust he receives from patients, leaving him free to focus on finding the best treatment for them.
The team is expected to return to China in March 2023, when its one-year tenure in Lesotho ends. Sheng said he plans to allow his African colleagues to take care of more surgical procedures during the rest of his stay, saying it is always important for Chinese medical teams sent abroad to help local doctors improve their skills and abilities.
“I really hope that they can master the performance of routine operations in the coming days,” he said, adding that he will do his best to share his advice and experience with his colleagues.