Macau medics give hope to “neglected” quake victims

Sunday, June 8, 2008
Issue 368, Page 5
Word count: 940
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The HOPE Medical Group which sent the first team of doctors from Macau to Sichuan has sent its third team to the quake-hit zones last week to look after victims who are being “put aside” because of their less serious injuries.

The group, which has a clinic in the Macau Peninsula and Taipa, sent their first medical crew including Dr David Cheang to Sichuan on May 18, six days after the magnitude 8 quake devastated the province in western China.

The SAR government sent their first team of doctors and nurses from Kiang Wu Hospital and Conde de São Januári Hospital to capital Chengdu on May 23.

The second batch of HOPE Medical doctors including Dr Ellen Tam headed to Sichuan on May 27 after the return of their colleagues on May 22.

Last week the third team comprising HOPE’s medical director Dr Keith Morgan flew to the province to continue the work the previous two teams had started.

The three general practitioners gave an interview to the Macau Daily Times before Dr Morgan’s departure, speaking about their experiences of serving in the disaster zone.

During the trip between May 27 and May 31, Dr Tam and her colleagues were located in Dujiangyan city, one of the hardest hit areas in western China.

Although the homeless have mostly been allocated temporary shelters and medical stations with Chinese military have been set up in many places, Dr Tam said there is still a tremendous demand for doctors specialising in family medicine.

The military medics “usually pay attention to people with severe injuries” such as fractures or those who had been buried under the rubble, Dr Tam said.

“People with sickness such as cold, flu, insomnia, gastrointestinal diseases, body aches are being neglected,” she said, adding “a lot of people there are suffering from headaches, back pain, coughing, insomnia or hoarse voices because of the screaming they did during the earthquake.”

Chinese doctors do not regard these kinds of sicknesses as “a big deal”, Dr Tam told the MDTimes, and therefore people think they are not being cared, she added.

“In the first five hours after we started giving diagnosis, we had already seen some 170 people,” she said.

“Even though we couldn’t spend much time on each patient, they would feel relieved that a doctor had finally seen them,” she added.

According to Dr Tam, people who survived from the earthquake have either lost their partners or children and seem to have a suicide tendency as they feel hopeless and lonely in their lives.

“Two schools collapsed during the quake and so we didn’t see many children around in the area,” she recalled.

Another problem the HOPE doctors experienced in Sichuan was a significant lack of local drugs and ointment supplies, although they had taken some from Macau.

The Chinese military medics also told Dr Tam they need x-ray and electrocardiogram machines to help patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and fractures. 

Having been to Indonesia and New Orleans to provide medical relief after the tsunami and hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Dr Tam said she was “okay” after witnessing the devastation in Sichuan.

“As a Chinese I did have a deeper feeling when I got to the province and because of the language I could understand more about the situation by talking with the people,” she said.

The doctor also praised the Chinese government for their prompt response and tremendous efforts after the quake, especially when compared with the performances of the Myanmar government after the cyclone and the Indonesian government after the Christmas tsunami, she said.

To Dr Tam, she said she has learned from the trip that she is “really lucky” to live in Macau as the place is “never hit by natural disaster”.

“There are already many people donating money but if there’s an opportunity to really get on the ground and help the people there, as a medic I think I should take the chance,” she added.

Dr David Cheang who was among the first HOPE medical team to fly to Sichuan including the badly affected city of Mianzhu, agreed with his colleague and also recognised the Chinese government’s disaster management effort.

“The Chinese government is very open-minded in accepting international aid and has put their people’s lives as the very first priority,” Dr Cheang said.

“It was also very impressive to see people from different countries including the United States, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea contributing to the relief efforts,” he added.

Dr Keith Morgan, who is now in Sichuan with the third HOPE medical crew and won’t return to Macau until June 10, told the MDTimes last week participating in disaster relief can strengthen a doctor’s professionalism.

“It helps their ability to organise and make decisions among many different needs. And most importantly, we are able to discover our abilities but also limitations under tense circumstances,” the medical director said.

“In terms of personal nature, it helps our doctors to understand more about the suffering of the people they take care of and makes us better doctors,” he added.

Dr Morgan said he will learn during the trip how the various organisations are working or cooperating and become familiar with what specific roles they play “because responding to a disaster you need a lot of different goods and people to do specific things”.

HOPE Medical Group is planning to send a team of five medics to Sichuan each month over the next six months.

When needs changed and most family sickness has been dealt with, Dr Morgan said the teams will start to treat more long-term diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

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