Haifa doctor delighted by medical ‘diplomacy’ trip to China

Amnon Amit spent 3 weeks operating, teaching surgery in a village hospital 4 hours from Nanjing.

Doctor in china (photo credit: Rambam Medical Center)
Doctor in china
(photo credit: Rambam Medical Center)
They had never heard of Israel, let alone Jews, but the residents and medical staffers in a village in northeastern China are now very grateful to a Haifa doctor who saved women’s lives in the local hospital.
Dr. Amnon Amit, a gynecological oncologist at Rambam Medical Center, spends his time performing surgery on women who suffer from tumors, most of them cancerous.
When he was approached by MATAT, a voluntary organization based in Kfar Saba that sends engineers, scientists, agricultural experts and physicians to far-lung places around the world, he agreed to spend three weeks in the “village” of Xinghua. Despite its classification, it has 120,000 residents – about the size of Bat Yam or Rehovot.
His solo trip to China brought him to Beijing for one day and then a four hour’s drive from Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province. Assisted by a full-time simultaneous translator, Amit found himself in the village‚s 1,200-bed general hospital.
As the facility lacked much basic medical equipment, the Chinese government purchased what he had ordered and donated it to the hospital for his use; it will remain there for the benefit of the population, Amit told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
None of the many people he encountered, other than his translator, spoke or understood English, forcing him to explain the laparoscopic (“keyhole”) surgery procedures to doctors with the interpreter, pantomime and hand movements.
Using laparoscopic equipment, he removed diseased uteruses and ovaries from 18 women, thus saving their lives.
“They were in their 50s and 60s, which is the average life expectancy for people in the village. Many in the surrounding area receive no medical care at all,” Amit explained. “Only the lucky ones see doctors, as there is no universal health insurance.”
The Rambam surgeon was in China for three weeks and returned about 10 days ago. He had never been to that country before.
“The conditions in the hospital where I worked were like those at Rambam many years ago,” he said. “But China is developing at rapid speed and in two years, Xinghua will have a modern new hospital like those in Israel. This region is undergoing huge changes, but it still must close great gaps.”
“There are few computers, and their national Internet is only in Chinese; they are not linked up to international websites,” said Amit. “It’s a different world there. The people are cut off from the advanced medical world. The lifestyle is similar to the way Israelis lived 60 years ago, although they do have cellular phones today.”
It was also very hot – 38 to 40º Centigrade and with 70 percent humidity. There were air conditioners only in the surgical theaters, making the heat oppressive everywhere else.
The hospital has no gynecological oncologists; there is no such profession in the area.
“But I taught surgeons, who work with very old-fashioned laparoscopy equipment. No chemotherapy or radiotherapy is available at the hospital to treat cancer patients, and the surgeons don’t have much experience. But all 18 operations were successful,” Amit said.
The Xinghua hospital’s staffers were highly motivated and dedicated, but they were not updated in modern methods.
“The women I operated on were so thankful and gushing that I was embarrassed,” Amit said.
“I would be glad to go on another such mission, elsewhere if not to China. I would prefer going to new places and spread the word about us. Now they know something about Israel and our advanced technologies, and they regard us in a completely positive light, Not only did my visit address a widespread medical need, it was the best possible type of diplomacy,” Amit concluded.
Plans are now under way to bring the Chinese team to Rambam, as well as for a return trip of other Rambam personnel.