The Village Doctor Who Is Always Available

2023-02-28 10:36:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter HUANG YUHAO
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Doctor Huang Guotao, having provided medical services for his fellow villagers for three decades, has been guarding the Hubei village from COVID-19 over the past three years. Today, life there has returned to normal.


Every year when the first day of the Chinese New Year rolls around, it is the tradition of the people in Huangfu Village to rise early to pay Lunar New Year’s visits to their nearby friends and neighbors and exchange “Happy New Year” greetings (in their local dialect) with everyone they meet on the way. When they arrive at someone’s house, adults will first share their New Year’s greetings and then ask their children to do the same. The hosts always give various kinds of candy, nuts, and fruit to the children, cigarettes to the male adults, and tea to everyone. Amid the warm greetings and good wishes, the Chinese New Year begins.

Huangfu Village is located in Xiaogang Town, Xiaogan City, Hubei Province, a drive of over one hour away from the city of Wuhan. The registered population of the village is 2,476, but usually only about 400-500 people live there on a regular basis. Most villagers work in big cities like Wuhan and only return during the Spring Festival.

Born and raised in Huangfu Village, Dr. Huang Guotao has provided medical services for village residents for three decades. His job responsibilities include treating common illnesses and routine public health work, including conducting physical examinations for the elderly, establishing health records for villagers, visiting patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, and severe psychological diseases, and overseeing their medications, giving checkups to pregnant women and new-born babies, and registering poor villagers, among others.

On the first day of every Chinese New year, Dr. Huang and his family also visit their nearby villagers’ houses to wish them happy New Year. Villagers treasure each visit as an opportunity to recall old times and catch up on recent news. With the optimization of COVID policies, the number of migrant villagers returning home this year to celebrate Spring Festival surpassed that of the previous two years. Happiness and joy filled the reunions of many families, and a jovial festive atmosphere which the village had not enjoyed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago returned.

Dr. Huang Guotao is disinfecting the village during the early days of the pandemic on January 30, 2020.

Combating COVID-19

When the COVID-19 broke out and raged through Wuhan in early 2020, 51-year-old Dr. Huang was filled with trepidation not knowing what he should do, since experts in the medical field at the time were very unfamiliar with the new virus. He was worried that the virus would soon spread to the village. Luckily Dr. Huang’s participation in responding to the 2003 SARS outbreak had given him much relevant experience in dealing with pandemics. Under the guidance of the local Command Center for COVID-19 Control and Prevention and the hospital in the town, Dr. Huang directed the COVID-19 response work in the village.

Since there was a huge number of villagers who were returning from Wuhan, Dr. Huang needed to register the people who had traveled to or lived in Wuhan, carry out epidemiological investigation and require them to quarantine themselves at home. For over two weeks, he took about 1,000 villagers’ temperatures at their homes. He also led villagers in disinfecting the village surroundings. The raging virus led to many infections in the town and even some deaths. To protect the health of his villagers, all roads that lead to outside the village were blocked and villagers were required not to leave their houses.

The lockdown caused much inconvenience. For villagers who had underlying diseases, it was hard for them to obtain the medicines they needed. To solve this problem, Dr. Huang voluntarily coordinated the purchasing of medicines for those patients. To ensure people’s basic living, the Villagers’ Committee coordinated with the town government in purchasing and distributing supplies like vegetables to villagers according to their needs.

During the pandemic, treatment of other diseases was not suspended. For villagers with common illnesses, Dr. Huang still did house calls to treat them. For villagers with more severe diseases, he reported them to the Command Center and coordinated the transfer of the patients to better hospitals. Protocols were set up for fever patients to be kept in closed-loop management and transferred to the fever clinic of a hospital in the nearby town if that should occur. Even though villagers were worried and jittery, these COVID-19 measures guaranteed their lives and health.

With the concerted efforts of all local residents, there was only one confirmed COVID-19 case in Huangfu Village during the first two and half years after the COVID-19 outbreak. On April 5, 2020, the 76-day lockdown in the village was finally lifted. Even though villagers couldn’t give New Year greetings face-to-face that year, their lives and health were ensured. When the situation became stable, villagers’ lives temporarily returned to normal. In May, Dr. Huang and the villagers began their farming duties. They sowed the seeds of hope for harvest and good health. Dr. Huang continued to treat villagers with illnesses and educated everyone how to protect themselves against COVID-19 through advertisement boards, brochures, and health lectures.

In April 2021, vaccinations were administered throughout the region of Xiaogang Town, in which Huangfu Village is located. Dr. Huang was asked to advice villagers to be vaccinated. He introduced the COVID-19 vaccination to all his outpatients, visited some villagers to inform them about it, and patiently dispelled the fears of the elderly who had doubts about taking it. Owing to his about 30-year experience working as a village doctor, Dr. Huang was trusted by the elderly, and most villagers got vaccinated. The vaccination rate in Huangfu Village reached 99 percent, only a few people with underlying conditions didn’t get vaccinated. The vaccines protected villagers’ health, and the spread of the pandemic in the village was kept under control.

Last December, China adjusted its COVID-19 control measures. As it coincided with the winter flu season, the number of patients with fevers and coughs in the village began to surge. “Every day, there were about 30 or 40 fever patients. During the peak time, I was treating 80 to 90 patients,” Dr. Huang said. Since the previous policy banned village clinics to receive patients with fevers and coughs, there weren’t many fever reducers on hand. Dr. Huang had to offer medicine pill by pill and put patients on medical IVs to give them more nutrition and ease their fever symptoms. Later when more medicine was available, every village clinic was given two bottles of Ibuprofen (each bottle contained 100 pills) which were then provided to villagers for free.

Dr. Huang felt exhausted during that period. “At 5:00 a.m., patients began to wait in line to see me. I had to work until 11:00 p.m. and often didn’t have time to eat,” he said. Soon Dr. Huang himself caught a fever too. It lasted for three to four days, but he still received patients despite his discomfort. Looking back over that period of time, he summarized his experience as “torment.”

“It wasn’t until December 24 that the number of patients began to decline, and by the middle of January 2023, the village had finally survived the outbreak,” he said. The impact of the virus on the elderly was “catastrophic,” resulting in the deaths of some elderly villagers with underlying conditions. Nonetheless, thanks to Dr. Huang’s treatments, most villagers recovered.

People are shopping for Spring Festival decorations on January 9, 2023.

New Year, New Village

Over the past three years, due to the implementation of effective pandemic prevention and control measures and the joint efforts of the village doctor and villagers, people’s lives were protected to the largest extent in the obscure small village. Today, life here has returned to normal. Lamps in the village square were fixed and the cement road was paved with asphalt. Some villagers opened Pick-Your-Own fruit farms. Everything is looking better.

After paying New Year’s visits this year, Dr. Huang went to the Village Clinic to administer an injection to an elderly woman. The arrival of the festival did not mean he could take a day off, for he is the only doctor in the village. Over the past three decades, he has spent most of his time in the village. If he does need to leave the village, he can’t stay away too long because patients often call him soon after he leaves. During the three-year COVID-19 pandemic, there haven’t been many media reports done on village doctors. But it is their efforts that have played a very important role in reigning in the pandemic in the rural area.

Dr. Huang’s New Year wish is, “There will be no more pandemic and people can live a healthy and happy life.” As the Spring Festival came to an end, younger villagers started to head off to big cities. As for ordinary village doctors like Dr. Huang, they will continue to work and live in villages as they did for the past decades to safeguard the health of migrant villagers’ families and their roots.

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