"Dear Uncles and Aunts from the China Red Cross Foundation: I appreciate your help so much. It is you who gave me new hope, and let me feel a beautiful world full of love. Ever since you offered us your help, we have seen sunshine flicker over our minds. I am not feeling lonely anymore." This letter was written by Wang Chunmei, a girl from Keshan County in Heilongjiang Province. She was one of the first batches of recovered children helped by the "Angel Project" in 2006.
Wang Chunmei and her younger sister Wang Chunjuan both had congenital heart disease. The staff of the Mudanjiang Cardiovascular Hospital picked the sisters up in person to take to the hospital, and arranged for them to be under the special care of their chief nurse who had many-years experience in child nursing. Then the hospital used pioneering technology to cure Wang Chunmei's heart disease. Although it cost much more than normal surgery, it did little harm to the patient and was conducted with few complications. In fact, the entire operation only took one hour to complete. Her father said very excitedly, "I never dreamed of this non-invasive surgery. A healthy daughter has returned to me in the wink of an eye..."
"Angel Project" is a pivot charity program launched in August 2005 by the China Red Cross Foundation, aiming to help build up health centers in rural areas, provide free training to rural doctors, establish special funds for life threatening diseases, offer medical aid for poor farmers and their children, and assist the local government to improve the medical facilities in impoverished areas and in ethnic group regions.
According to Wang Rupeng, secretary-general of the Foundation, there is a huge gap in the development between east China and west China. Because supporting funds from the governments in central and western regions are limited, farmers there still experience difficulties in seeing doctors and paying for medical expenses. Because of this, people may become indigent or return to poverty even if they have climbed out of poverty before.
In July-August of this year Professor Wang Shuguang of the Peking University was doing a survey in Wuyuan County of Jiangxi Province. He saw with his own eyes the difficulties that the farmers faced. "If they cannot be cured in township clinics, they will be transferred to county hospitals but they have to pay 60 percent of their medical expenses. The minimum cost is 10,000 yuan (US$1,332) no matter whether they are cured or not. For an ordinary farm household whose yearly income is only 4,000 yuan (US$533), it is very hard for them to pay this. Very often they go in debt," Wang said.
Liu Xuanguo, publicity director of the Foundation, noted that many rural health centers are still using the three traditional medical instruments of the 1960s for treatment: thermometer, stethoscope, and blood-pressure meter. Some rural doctors even make use of their own beds to inspect patients. A lot of rural doctors cannot make ends meet by running clinics. They have to do some farm work to support their family.
In recent years, the government has been promoting a new system of rural cooperative medical services. As a pioneer in this area, the "Angel Project" has made remarkable achievements since its launch two years ago. Statistics from the Foundation show that the Project has saved 234 children with leukemia, 160 children with congenital heart disease and 116 children with brain paralysis. It has also assisted 1,500 adults and children from poor farming families who have life threatening diseases.
According to the Foundation, in the past two years, the "Angel Project" has received money and support from all walks of life. To date the Project has received donations of over 100 million yuan (US$13 million) from home and abroad, built more than 120 rural health centers, and provided medical facilities and drugs worth 200 million yuan (US$27 million) for grass-root medical institutions in 25 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities around China. The total number of rural people who have benefited from this Project has reached 600,000.
Donation stories are often emotionally charged. After the plan to help rural doctors was issued, an old couple came to the Foundation and donated 30,000 yuan (US$3,997), money that they had saved for years, to the "Angel Project". When they were asked to leave their names, they refused. With tears in eyes, the staff of the Foundation accompanied the elderly couple to the bus stop.
The "Angel Project" gained support not only from home but also from overseas Chinese. One American Chinese from New York made a donation to build four health centers in rural China.
In recent years, more and more foreign and domestic enterprises have started to get involved in public welfare to support the "Angel Project". Businesses include China Life, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Tianjin FAW Motor Co. Ltd., China Unicom, Chinanetcom, as well as some Global Top-500 companies like Philips, SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. Ltd, Guangzhou Toyota, P&G and Dupont. Non-governmental enterprises have also become important sources of donation, with Tiens, Anta, Shanghai Shuixing taking the lead.
"A match alone can produce limited brightness; but if a match is used to light up a pile of wood, it will bring unimagined brightness." Wang Rupeng hoped that the "Angel Project" would be just like a single spark to start a prairie fire, calling upon all segments of society to care more about farmers' health and to support the improvement of the rural medical environment to promote the healthy development of China's rural medical system.
(China Development Gateway by Xu Lin October 15, 2007)