10/06/2005, 00.00
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"Barefoot" doctors are the only medics in rural villages

In the sixties, the basics of medical care were taught to many farmers in a bid to create medical awareness throughout the country. To date, they are the only "doctors" in rural areas, albeit unrecognized by the authorities.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Yang Zhijun has no medical qualifications and he has only ever attended primary school. However for the past 28 years, he has served the government as the only "doctor" of a small village in the southeast mountains of Ningxia region.  

Every day, this "barefoot doctor" cultivates his flax field from 6am until midday. Then he returns home to start his medical practice. The village is around one hour by car away from Xiji city, the county seat; its 1,000 residents speak a local dialect and are of Hui ethnicity. They cannot afford to pay the medical fee (10 yuan, around one euro) charged by doctors. Yang earns less than 30 yuan per month for his visits and another 15 yuan per month from the local government for helping out with vaccinations of children in the village. His dispensary is stocked by a few rudimentary medicines.

The system of basic health workers was born in the sixties when at least one person per village was trained in simple medical care, to implement health care in isolated rural areas. This system collapsed in the eighties, but thousands of "barefoot" doctors continued their essential work throughout agricultural areas.

These people do not form part of the official health system: Li Wenke, a Xiji county health department official, admitted that village "doctors" were poorly treated, but said local finances could not stretch any further to compensate them.

"They are only farmers," added a county official. Yang confirms: "I have to have field work as my main business."

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