Global Times: GT on the spot: An unforgettable record of PLA naval hospital ship’s weeklong visit to Solomon Islands

BEIJING, Aug. 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — With groups of people waving goodbye, China’s naval hospital ship the Ark Peace sailed from Honiara Harbor on Saturday morning after it successfully concluded its weeklong visit and dispensing medical services to the Solomon Islands.

Similar to its arrival, the shores were filled with crowds bidding farewell, with their sentiments toward the hospital ship evidently profound. For them, the opportunity to receive medical treatment aboard the Ark Peace was a rare one. 

The 10,000th patient to receive medical care during the Ark Peace’s visit to the Solomon Islands, 8-year-old girl Alaina, and her family expressed their hopes that the hospital ship would return once again.

The hospital ship, on the “Mission Harmony 2023,” embarked on a seven-day visit and medical service mission to the Solomon Islands from August 19 to 26. This marked the hospital ship’s inaugural visit to the Solomon Islands and the first visit by a Chinese Navy vessel to the country.

Situated in the southwest Pacific, the Solomon Islands established formal diplomatic relations with China in September 2019. In July 2023, both sides officially established a comprehensive strategic partnership featuring mutual respect and common development for a new era.

As the only active ocean-going hospital ship in the Chinese Navy, the Ark Peace has sailed across three oceans and six continents, earning the affection of people from various countries.

Seeing is believing and during the Ark Peace’s visit to the Solomon Islands, the Global Times witnessed the ship’s appealing charm.

A chance in a lifetime

Since the Ark Peace’s arrival, hundreds gathered at the Solomon Ports area as early as 9 am daily to wait for a chance to be seen by medical specialists onboard, according to the Solomon Star News, a local daily newspaper.

Some even arrived at the Ports as early as 6 am, as the floating hospital was viewed as “a chance in a lifetime for many” in the nation, the report said.

Captain Deng Qiang of the hospital ship told the Global Times that to shield patients from the sun and rain and improve the efficiency of medical treatment, the team set up tents and waiting and triage areas on the pier. After registration at the triage area, patients proceeded in an orderly fashion onto the ship for examination and medical treatment under the guidance of staff.

Xi Huijun, Director of Nursing aboard the hospital ship, held a walkie-talkie to monitor the number and flow of patients boarding the ship. “The original plan was to start work at 8:30 am, but to expedite patient diagnosis and treatment, we began pre-consultation and pre-registration work at 7.30 am,” she explained.

After boarding, patients were required to first register, after which blood was drawn. Two large boards in this area displayed 45 badges representing the 45 countries and regions visited by the hospital ship. Another electronic screen displayed the ship’s global voyages since its first departure from China’s Zhoushan port in East China’s Zhejiang Province in 2010, with routes spreading out from Zhoushan like vines from a tree.

Deng had visited 32 countries with the hospital ship over seven voyages. During its latest mission, the ship stopped in Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The final stop would be Timor-Leste.

Deng recalled the different experiences at each stop, and the local people’s love for the Ark Peace remained consistent and growing. “In 2014, when the ship visited Vanuatu, an elderly local resident underwent cataract surgery in one eye. When the ship returned in 2018, the same patient underwent surgery in the other eye.”

Local resident Malachi Hi Nai, who was waiting on board for cataract surgery, believed that Chinese doctors and technology were the most advanced, which was why he chose to have the surgery on the hospital ship.

Hi explained that the local people seeking treatment aboard the hospital ship were mainly dealing with chronic illnesses such as gastric problems, as well as ophthalmological and orthopedic conditions. “The weather in South Pacific Island countries is hot, and prolonged sun exposure can lead to eye diseases, so there are many patients seeking ophthalmological services. Additionally, there is a high demand for dental services among the locals,” she said.

Political Commissar Ren Junwei of the hospital ship’s Maritime Hospital said that demand for medical services among Solomon Islands residents was high. During the seven days of medical service provision, the ship and its medical crew treated 10,310 local patients and conducted 5,825 auxiliary examinations, setting a record for the highest single-station patient reception during the Mission Harmony 2023.

“To meet the local demand for medical services, we not only received patients on the main platform of the hospital ship, but also dispatched seven medical teams for on-site consultations, which is also the most in the countries we have visited this summer,” Ren explained.

“We also sent a shipborne medical rescue helicopter to Tulagi Island for on-site consultations. Three expert medical teams went to national referral hospitals to hold joint consultations and conduct surgeries with local medical personnel, engaging in academic exchanges,” he said.

Janeth Sau, 30, was among those whose lives were changed by the arrival of the floating hospital.

Sau suffered from pain in her left knee for nine years. When the Global Times saw her, she was lying on a bed in the orthopedics department aboard the hospital ship, ready to receive treatment. Her husband told the Global Times that they had gone to local hospitals many times, but the same medication was always prescribed to no effect. They saw the news of the ships planned arrival to the Solomon Islands in the local media and arrived at the port early to queue up.

Regarding Sau’s condition, Tong Wenwen, an orthopedic doctor aboard the hospital ship, told the Global Times that the initial diagnosis was knee joint effusion, commonly seen in knee synovitis. “It will be better to undergo multiple treatments for a complete recovery, but our treatment for the day can greatly alleviate her pain as well,” Tong said.

Modern, hi-tech ark

The white-toned behemoth with a striking red cross painted on its side made the Ark Peace a beautiful sight in Honiara Port. 

Stepping onto the deck of hospital ship, one will be greeted by a bustling scene from departments of internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology, to dentistry.

Each department had numerous patients awaiting treatment. If it were not for the occasional sway of the ship and the visible medical equipment, one could have easily forgotten that this is a mobile hospital ship.

The hospital ship exudes a sense of modernity and technology, which is equipped with eight operating rooms, 266 beds, and more than 2,600 pieces of equipment, including magnetically-controlled capsule endoscopes, CT scanners, and X-ray machines. There are more than ten departments, such as the trauma classification area, the pre-op preparation room, and an ICU ward, allowing for over 40 different types of examinations, treatments, and surgeries, including general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology, and otolaryngology.

While in the ICU ward, the Global Times reporters encountered Liu Yaoyang, an ICU doctor aboard the hospital ship. On August 20, there were a total of nine admitted patients, including those who had already undergone surgery and were under observation, as well as those awaiting surgery.

One such patient under Liu’s care, Jamie, had undergone cataract surgery in his right eye. He had previously undergone the same surgery in his left eye in the Philippines, costing approximately 8,000 yuan ($1,097). This time, Wu Jinhui, an ophthalmologist aboard the hospital ship, performed the cataract surgery in his right eye.

According to Wu, Jamie’s left eye now has a visual acuity of 0.8, and after the surgery, his right eye’s visual acuity would recover to 1.0, which was a pleasant surprise to the patient.

Sun Chang, a gastroenterologist aboard the hospital ship, performed seven endoscopic examinations in the outpatient department on August 20. The magnetically-controlled capsule endoscope used in the examinations is a high-tech product independently developed by China, which has been used in 25 countries, including the US and Canada.

Sun explained that its core technology involves precise magnetic control and artificial intelligence.

The patient only needs to swallow a small capsule with water. A comprehensive gastroscopy examination can be completed in about 20 minutes, Sun said. “A strict evaluation needs to be conducted on patients who are qualified for this examination, to ensure that the magnetically controlled capsule endoscopy procedure can safely be performed on them.”

Chinese medicine fever

Aboard the hospital ship, there are not only advanced modern facilities but also unique traditional Chinese medicine clinics offering services like cupping and acupuncture, which are highly popular among patients and have sparked a “Chinese medicine fever” in the local area.

On August 22, the Chinese medicine department treated 97 local patients, marking the highest daily outpatient volume since the implementation of the “Mission Harmony 2023.”

Atop the Chinese medicine consultation room’s seven beds, some patients were seen with “cups” on their backs, some had needles inserted in various acupuncture points on their legs, while other received moxibustion treatment on their feet. A local middle-aged woman told the Global Times that she came to the hospital ship for treatment because she heard that Chinese medicine is famous and effective for foot pain.

“I feel very good. Chinese doctors are very good!” she said, expressing her happiness and relief.

Wang Lina, a Chinese medicine doctor aboard the maritime hospital, said that patients were particularly satisfied with the effectiveness of Chinese medicine treatment. Some patients had come for follow-up treatment and had achieved remarkable results after as few as three visits. Patients also requested treatment for other forms of chronic pain, and expressed their hopes that the hospital ship would stay in the Solomon Islands for longer. “The local volunteers aboard the ship have been inspired by the enthusiasm of the patients and have also requested treatment from us.”

In addition to the main platform of the hospital ship, medical teams were dispatched to various communities every day for diagnosis and treatment. One local community strongly requested for Chinese medicine doctors to be dispatched. “As soon as we arrived at the community, we saw a long queue, and we immediately started diagnosis and treatment, using different methods for 80 patients.” Although tired, Wang felt extremely gratified when she saw the relieved smiles on the patients’ faces.

‘Promote borderless peace’

The arrival of the Ark Peace wasn’t just a rare opportunity for ordinary individuals, but also provided a unique experience for local officials as well. Apart from local residents, officials from the Solomon Islands also boarded the ship to tour and receive medical treatment. 

The types of physical examinations carried out on officials included blood work, liver function, and kidney function. The examination team, led by two chief doctors aboard the ship, Tang Wei and Bian Qi, compiled detailed medical reports in both Chinese and English after examination.

“Once a patient requests it, we can provide one-on-one explanations according to the medical reports and suggest corresponding treatment plans,” Tang said.

As an example, Tang mentioned the case of a 38-year-old patient from the Solomon Islands whose fasting blood sugar was as high as 14 during the examination. The individual had noticed elevated blood sugar levels for five years, and had a similar family history, but hadn’t received proper guidance and treatment.

“Based on the examination results, I designed a treatment plan involving oral medication combined with insulin reinforcement, along with monitoring and adjustment strategies. The patient was especially pleased with the treatment advice and plan, and expressed hopes for a chance to meet again,” Tang said.

When the Ark Peace stopped in Tonga, at the invitation of Tonga Prime Minister, Bian Qi spent nearly an hour conducting a detailed explanation of the prime minister’s medical report and held discussions with the prime minister’s personal doctor. “Both the prime minister himself and his private doctor gave very high praise to our medical results and recommendations,” Bian said.

Chang Le, the director of the ship hospital, said that during the process of offering treatment plans to patients from various countries, they also genuinely felt the high recognition of their comprehensive medical and service capabilities.

“After communicating with national leaders and doctors, they would always express hopes for another opportunity to meet,” Chang said.

Ship of Life, Ship of Peace, Ship of Friendship, Ship of Culture – these slogans could be seen in the ship’s corridor. Deng, the captain, said he believed that this was the most accurate definition of the Ark Peace.

“As a hospital ship, the Ark Peace carries the duty of saving lives and providing medical care. Wherever it goes, it brings health and hope to local people, planting seeds of friendship in their hearts,” Deng said.
The ship’s name, “Peace,” is what the world needs today. The good-will medical visit is a sure way of achieving peace, Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, said while boarding the ship on August 20, according to a report by Solomon Islands Broadcasting.

Biblically, it was an “Ark” that God used to save the world. Thus, the boat saves lives and promotes borderless peace, said Sogavare.

 

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