China Has It Lucky, Says Medical Recruit
by Ravina Shamdasani
South China Morning Post

 A pet monkey, a couple of Dutch nationals and Arabic television dramas helped keep Pan Yuan, the first mainland recruit for the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, entertained during his stint in Sudan.

In Hong Kong on his way back home to Yunnan after 13 months in the poverty-ridden North African country, Mr Pan spoke of how his experiences had made him aware of his responsibilities as a global citizen.

"People in China complain about how difficult life is there, but I felt lucky to be born in China after what I saw there," he said. "No water, not enough food, terrible hygiene conditions, barely any economic infrastructure - we are actually very fortunate with what we have."

Mr Pan worked as a logistician for the international aid agency's operations in Sudan. His duties included managing the medicine and food supplies to clinics, managing the vehicle fleet and handling Customs clearance.

The charity's volunteers and staff in the area are treating an endemic parasitic disease known as visceral leishmaniasis, or kala azar. The aim is to empower the local ministry of health and medical staff to take over in two years.

The disease is caused by an insect bite, with symptoms including irregular bouts of fever, substantial weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver and anaemia. The fatality rate is 100 per cent if left untreated, according to the World Health Organisation.

Mr Pan said his family and girlfriend in Yunnan were supportive of his endeavour but an aunt in Hong Kong thought he had lost his mind. He urged fellow Chinese to come forward and help others in need.

"The summer heat, with 40 degrees Celsius, would sometimes just get you really tired and there were health problems caused by the food," he said.

"Life could also get boring - I would often watch Arabic TV and the same old movies over and over on the one VCR we had in one of our offices. I had a pet monkey for a while, just like the wise old monkey in the Lion King."

But he added: "It's a great chance for us Chinese to share our culture and stories of our development. As the first Chinese to be recruited by MSF to go overseas, I was honoured and felt it was our duty to help those much poorer than us."