WHEN Zhu Wei, a medical doctor, stepped up to give a farewell speech during a function in Harare last week, the emotion was palpable.
A fortnight ago (March 8), Zimbabwe bade farewell to a group of Chinese doctors who had completed their one-year mission in the country.
Zhu’s team was the latest of 19 groups of medical teams deployed to Zimbabwe on similar missions since 1985.
They have worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals — Zimbabwe’s biggest referral facility — playing a vital role in helping keep a crumbling health system afloat.
Among hurdles affecting Zimbabwe’s health delivery system are the brain drain and shortage of life-saving drugs.
Last week, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that the staff exodus shaking Zimbabwe’s health delivery system forced government to increase salaries for nurses to minimise the damage.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima said following the flight of critical medical staff to the United Kingdom, a decision was made to raise salaries to try and halt the brain drain.
Official statistics indicate that over 4 000 nurses and doctors have left Zimbabwe since February 2021, with nearly 1 800 of them leaving last year.
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It is estimated that over three million Zimbabweans have emigrated since 2000, in search of greener pastures.
Expatriates like Zhu have been helping plug the gaps.
“We have provided medical services to local people wholeheartedly,” Zhu told delegates during the special function at the Chinese embassy.
“We have promoted the co-operation project (with) counterpart hospitals for respiratory and critical care constantly, promoted on-site rescue — first witness training and laparoscopic operation actively — provided traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture diagnosis and treatment services for the people of Zimbabwe.
“Through the use of medical skills, we managed to interact with patients. By understanding the rich and diverse culture of Zimbabweans, communicating with people became easier and enjoyable.
“This gave us room to practice the spirit of the China medical team — with the motto: ‘Not Afraid of Hardships, Willing to Contribute to Save Lives and Heal the Wounded, and to Love Boundlessly’,” he noted.
He said his team contributed to Zimbabwe’s health cause and medical co-operation between Zimbabwe and China.
“We came to Africa — crossing thousands of rivers and mountains. We developed infinite affection and friendship. As we are about to end our mission and return to China, we have a lot of mixed feelings,” Zhu said.
“We are eager to return home after such a long time away, and yet reluctant to leave the people of Zimbabwe.”
Indeed, the medical teams, which for the past 60 years have provided healthcare across Africa, left an indelible mark in Zimbabwe.
According to the country’s Health minister, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, the Chinese medical teams were “selfless”.
He said China spiced its determination to serve Zimbabwe by playing a lead role in intervening as Covid–19 turned the economy upside down in 2020.
“In early 2020, Zimbabwe was not spared from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Chiwenga said. “The global challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic occurred when this Chinese medical team was already in Zimbabwe.
“The team could have chosen to go back to China immediately where they would have access to advanced medical technology in the unfortunate event of contracting Covid-19, but they chose to remain because we are friends and they love Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe also received Covid-19 vaccines from China, which authorities attribute to a successful vaccination campaign.
Authorities say 60,8% of the population has received the first Covid-19 dose while 45% has been inoculated with the second jab.
Chinese embassy Chargé d’Affaires, Cheng Yan said medical support was an important part of China’s foreign aid.
“As President Xi Jinping noted in his response letter to the China medical team deployed to the Central African Republic, the Chinese people love peace and cherish lives, illustrated by their efforts in international medical assistance,” Cheng said.
“Since China dispatched its first medical team to Algeria in 1963, a total of 30 000 medical personnel have treated 290 million local patients in 76 countries and regions.
“Currently, China medical teams are working at 115 sites in 56 countries around the world.”
Cheng said after the Covid-19 scourge, China dispatched experts to 34 countries, including Zimbabwe, who arrived with valuable experience in pandemic responses.
“China has also been partnering with hospitals in 41 countries and providing free cataract and heart surgery services in more than 30 countries.
“The embassy will promote free cataract and heart surgery services again this year. Over the past 38 years, China has sent 19 medical teams to Zimbabwe with 188 personnel, treating more than 67 000 patients in total.
“Over the past 38 years, the China medical team has forged profound friendships with the Zimbabwean people. They are not only envoys of China's medical cooperation with Zimbabwe, but also a golden brand of the China-Zimbabwe friendship.
“They provided diagnosis and treatment at Parirenyatwa Hospital. They went to factories, mining areas, villages and schools receiving more than 11 000 medical consultations, conducted more than 550 surgeries and rescued more than 120 critically ill patients,” Cheng noted.