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Chinese hospitals fill medical gaps in S. Sudan, despite lack of controls

Esther Muwombi
Chinese hospitals are increasingly stepping in where South Sudan’s medical coverage is lacking. While some benefit from their treatment, others say their operations are in-transparent and risky.
18.02.2013  |  Juba
The China Bentiu Hospital, April 10, 2011.
The China Bentiu Hospital, April 10, 2011.

When 32-year-old Jack got a swelling in one of his testis he found out it was a tumour. His couldn’t get treated in his hometown Bentiu and embarked on a long trip to Juba where he was successfully operated at the Chinese friendship Hospital for treatment.

Jack’s story is just one of the happy endings to emerge from the Chinese medical facilities which are increasingly filling gaps in South Sudan’s patchy health service. According to Dr. Lino Yang of the Vilian Tang, another Chinese medical facility in Juba, many people are shifting to Chinese clinics and herbal medicines in search for protection against life threatening illnesses.

Prevention is better than cure, people want protection and long life, it is a global trend,” he said.

Chinese clinics are cheaper for me.”
David Dut
However, others explain the success of the Chinese hospitals and medical services to their comparatively low cost. Chinese clinics are cheaper for me,” said David Dut, as he waited for his ailing brother who was visiting a Chinese doctor.

Government officials, however, urge caution, citing a lack of transparency and regulation. One of South Sudan’s Chinese clinics was closed down months ago for allegedly flouting the country’s health regulations. The facility was later reopened and continues to operate.

Jacob Lazaras, who heads the department of pharmaceuticals in the Central Equatoria State, said the Chinese and other foreign-owned clinics operating in the country ought to have South Sudanese Doctors to supervise them and also to manage the labs. There are government health facilities at every level offering free medical care to the public,” he said.

There are government health facilities at every level.”
Jacob Lazaras
He added that the Chinese medicines are often labelled in Chinese, making it difficult for South Sudanese experts and patients to establish their contents.

Dr. Jacob argued that foreign medical practitioners should work with the government health facilities for at least six months before they are allowed to run private health facilities.

The Chinese hospitals use a combination of medicines from Europe and Asia to treat their patients as well as Chinese herbal medicines.

Dr. Lee said the hospital receives many patients. We perform surgery on patients with tumours and fractures everyday,” he said.

Many patients say they received good service in the Chinese clinics, although the language barrier is a recurrent problem: Most doctors only speak Chinese while patients often speak Arabic.
I had malaria, so I kept pointing at the parts of my body that were paining.”
Joseph Deng
While seeking treatment at a Chinese hospital, Joseph Deng, had to use body language to explain his condition to the doctor. I had malaria, so I kept pointing at the parts of my body that were paining,” he revealed, adding that his body language worked as the doctor referred him to the lab for a malaria blood test.

However, Simon Bol said he left the clinic without being understood and had to seek treatment elsewhere.

According to Dr. Yang, most patients who do not speak English ask relatives or friends who speak English to accompany them to the facilities, thus eliminating the communication barrier, as long as the Chinese doctor speaks English. Meanwhile, hospitals often hire Chinese-Arabic-English translators where the Chinese do not speak English according to Yang.

Although the increasing number of Chinese medical facilities have sparked fears among some, South Sudan still has its work cut out to improve the health of its nation. While public health facilities are often in short supply, corruption remains a big threat. Meanwhile, the nation has one of the worst records for key health indicators, with high rates of infant and maternal mortality.