The earthquake that rocked south-western China on 12 May claimed some 70,000 lives. One month after the catastrophe the survivors need help. Temporary accommodation, food deliveries and medicine supplies need to be coordinated. A mobile hospital run by the German Red Cross has been in the region for about three weeks. The German aid workers will soon hand over the reins to their Chinese colleagues.
Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless by the earthquake
Zhong De the Second has digestion problems. The tiny tot was born three days ago by caesarean section and is with his mother at the mobile Red Cross hospital in the city of Dujiangyan.
Zhong De means “China Germany” -- he is the second baby with this name to have been born in this white tent, which the Red Cross has erected on a closed off part of the local motorway.
The young parents chose the name to express their thanks to the German helpers in the area. In a few days, Zhong De will move to another tent city. Like millions of others in the quake zone, he and his family are likely to live in the open air for an uncertain length of time.
Mobile hospital replaces damaged facilities
The hospitals in the city of Dujiangyan, which has 600,000 inhabitants, are only partly usable at the moment. The mobile Red Cross hospital has been able to fill the gap. It gets about 900 visitors a day -- mainly outpatients such as the 78-year-old Mrs Zhou:
“I have breathing problems. Usually I only have them in winter but since the earthquake I’ve been sleeping outside every night in a tent. That’s made me really ill.”
Mrs Zhou’s husband brought her to the hospital on the back of his bicycle. Next to them waits three-year-old Xinrui. She has had a fever and a sore throat for days says the mother: “This is the only functioning hospital in Dujiangyan. The others can’t do much at all because they don’t have the right equipment anymore. The Red Cross hospital is the best in the city.”
Usable all over the world
The doctors and nurses have all come from the other hospitals. The German team has taken on a backseat role, giving advice when asked because the philosophy is for local doctors to be able to run the hospital independently of the Red Cross.
“Our hospital has been set up in such a way that it can be used all over the world,” explained Thomas Moch the team leader. “Here in China we were sub-standard and tried to adapt very quickly to the circumstances. We brought more technical equipment than we normally would.”
“This hospital offers good quality and appropriate technology. But in contrast to the expectations -- in Germany too perhaps -- we’re never fast enough to rescue earthquake victims. That can’t work. Even if we’re really very fast we still need five days. We replace damaged health facilities.”
Handing over agreement
Treatment in the Red Cross hospital is still free for the moment and this will continue as part of the handing over agreement to the Chinese Red Cross.
However, after three months, the hospital will be fully integrated into the Chinese health system and will function according to the country’s conditions. The transfer should be smooth, thinks Thomas Moch who says there is a very highly-motivated and well-qualified Chinese team.
The young Chinese doctor Zhu Jiang is also full of praise: “After the earthquake catastrophe, the Germans provided exactly the kind of help that was necessary here. That’s very good. With the help of modern equipment, the death rate in such situations decreases and patients can be better treated. This is incredibly important for rebuilding a city.”
The German team expects to leave China in mid-June.