Poor kids receive free life-saving treatment in Beijing hospital
By Ning Hong

China has ramped up efforts to provide healthcare to poverty-stricken areas. For a decade, hospitals in the capital Beijing have provided life-saving medical treatment for children coming from poor families.

In December, a group of children from some of the most remote and poorest places in southwest China's Yunnan and Sichuan provinces are going to receive free treatment for congenital heart disease at the First Hospital of Tsinghua University. Doctors here are among the best in their field in all of the country.

"Health insurance from the local government covers part of the cost, the social welfare foundation funds a portion and hospitals meanwhile reduce the costs of medical care," said Zhang Mingkui, president of the First Hospital of Tsinghua University, who has treated more than 4,000 children over the past decade.

"This allows families of children to undergo free surgeries regardless of whether they are common or serious cases," Zhang said.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a major cause of death for children under the age of 5. But with proper and timely treatment, most of them fully recover. The key, as Zhang says, is to detect the problem early on.

In the hospital, we met Ms. Chen. She and her daughter are from Liangshanzhou, Sichuan Province. Her daughter was diagnosed with CHD last year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chen and her husband decided to wait for treatment.

The local authorities reached out to the family when their daughter's condition could no longer wait. Chen's daughter is lucky because she was diagnosed at a very young age. Among the group of patients, there are teenagers as well.

Doctors from the First Hospital of Tsinghua University visit poverty-stricken regions every year to screen young CHD patients. It takes years of experience and proper equipment to diagnose CHD among infants. But as Li Hongyin, director of the hospital's cardiac surgery department, put it, the situation is improving.

"Twenty percent of the patients we receive from poverty-stricken areas such as Liangshanzhou and Guizhou Province have complex congenital heart disease. But we're happy to see that the average age of our patients is dropping, which means the work of early diagnosis is working," said Li.

After a morning checkup, Li heads to the operating room where he'll spend the rest of the day. Doctors have decided to take less strenuous methods during the surgery to reduce the harm to Chen's daughter's body.

The demands are high on the surgeons. The hospital is training doctors from across China for early diagnosis and treatment. Luckily for Chen's family, they won't have to wait any longer for that day to come.

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