Doctors Provide Care Despite Obstacles in China In China's earthquake-damaged Sichuan province, 39,000 medical personnel are now working to provide care, according to provincial authorities. Chinese emergency medical workers have been able to cope with the rush of injured people.

Doctors Provide Care Despite Obstacles in China

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From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris in Washington.


In Chengdu, China, I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're starting to get a clearer picture of the number of people who perished in last week's earthquake here in southwest China. China's government said today that the number of confirmed deaths is now over 50,000. Another 30,000 people are missing, and we presume 10 days after the quake that they too are dead.

BLOCK: The World Health Organization is sending public health experts and medical supplies to Sichuan province in China. The WHO says its contribution would help care for 130,000 people in need of treatment after the earthquake here. According to the Sichuan provincial authorities, there are now 39,000 medical staff working in the disaster area. Robert talked today with a few of them and heard they're getting high marks for their response to the disaster.

SIEGEL: The patient is Zhang Anxiu. She's hard of hearing. She appears to be in her 70s, and she's suffering from dizziness. Dr. Yang Rensong wields a tongue depressor in one hand and a flashlight in the other.



SIEGEL: It is a universal scene from the doctor's office, but this office is in a tent city on the grounds of a sports park in the Chinese city of Mianzhu. It's now a temporary home to 6,300 earthquake evacuees who live ten to a tent. Dr. Yang sends Ms. Zhang off with a cupful of pills. Next patient, Wang Xiangying, 30-something and suffering from back pain.

Ms. XIANGYING WANG: (Speaking foreign language)

SIEGEL: During the quake, she says, she was running barefoot and fell. Dr. Yang gives her a medicated bandage and asks after her health. Otherwise she says she had been suffering from a sore throat; now she's feeling better.

Dr. Zhu Ming is an internist from Mianzhu. He's now working 24-hour shifts at this medical station.

Dr. MING ZHU: (Through translator) Here in this camp we deal with mostly heat problems, with sore throats and colds and then we have a problem with skin rashes - that's a big problem.

SIEGEL: Do you think it's the dust that's getting in people's lungs?

Dr. ZHU: Yes, dust is part of it. But really it's the big difference of temperatures. During the daytime, it's so hot. And in the evening it's so cold and damp. And the rain, it didn't help. That's why.

SIEGEL: Dr. Zhu says everyone is getting bottled water to drink. The toilets work well, and people are able do their laundry. We heard from him and from others that supplies are getting to the millions who are out of their homes and living in camps or in makeshift tents along the road. Medicine appears to be plentiful.

Emergency medical care has been effective. A Belgian kidney specialist and an Australian operating room nurse were both rushed in by the relief group Doctors Without Borders. Both told me the same thing. The Chinese really didn't need them. This was no surprise to two Chinese coordinators for the group. They're based in Beijing and they flew in to Sichuan right after the quake.

We met them in the outdoor improvised emergency room of an orthopedic hospital in the hard-hit town of Han Wang.

Liang Jiaxiong said the government's done a very good job of treating those injured in the disaster. I asked him what local authorities' biggest public health concerns are now.

Mr. JIAXIONG LIANG (Doctor Without Borders): To prevent an epidemic of disease is now the most important.

SIEGEL: Diseases like?

Mr. JIAXIONG: (Unintelligible) diarrhea.

SIEGEL: Dysentery I assume would be a problem.

Mr. LIANG: Yeah.

SIEGEL: If you're looking for it.

Mr. LIANG: Yeah, we think so.

SIEGEL: His colleague from Beijing, Dr. Ye Minling, said something that we heard from doctors at the tent city as well. She said the doctors and the nurses need relief.

Dr. MINLING YE: One night they all cried together because they lost their colleague here. They are overloaded in terms of the work, and also they are very emotional by this disaster.

SIEGEL: One of the doctors - his name is Lin Jiaxiong, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine - illustrated that point as we walked together from the hospital. I'd watched him applied herbal ointment to the arm of a young woman with tendonitis. He told me about a member of the hospital staff who died. Seeing other buildings collapse, he had jumped from a fourth-floor window. He must have thought he was jumping to safety; instead he jumped to his death.

And then Dr. Lin said something unexpected. His own 26-year-old daughter had been crushed and killed in the earthquake. He cried. We exchanged embraces of condolence and then we drove away.

NORRIS: That's my co-host Robert Siegel, reporting from Chendu, China. To see pictures from Robert's story, go to our Web site,

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