Women's Health Project, Yaopoli Village, Sichuan

In September 2005, the life of the villagers of Yaopoli village, located deep in Daba Mountain, left visitors with a deep impression: clean and fresh air, lush trees and the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. However, the village also had no road and no electricity. Water had to be carried from afar. There was no clinic in the village and no doctor. Women in the village complained of all sorts of health problems, the more common ones being “headache” and “waist and back pain”. Such symptoms of gynecological diseases affect the physical and mental health of women. It was said that in this small hill village with a population just over 270, more than one woman had died of gynecological disease.

In a rural community, if there is not enough readily available clean water, and if there are no doctors, in particular no women doctors, women’s health suffers considerably because of such poor conditions. Because of this, PCD has been supporting Daba Mountain Research Association for Ecology and Poverty Reduction, an NGO doing community development in the village to enable the community to improve conditions and facilities that impact on health. These include building supplies of drinking water for people and animals, building clinics and training village doctors. At the same time, it is also important to enhance the community’s knowledge on maintaining good health so that they can make more informed choices and take responsibility for their own practices.

Health Education and Women’s Group

The Yaopoli Women’s Health Project was launched between March 2006 and December 2008. Women of Yaopoli Village became concerned with health issues as they took part in a series of health training courses and activities run by the women’s health group. One woman said: “Before I didn’t know what my health meant. I only felt that the conditions here were bad. There was lots of housework and hard work to earn a living; often times I felt unwell. The Association [i.e. Daba Mountain Research Association for Ecology and Poverty Reduction] provided us with health knowledge. We have learned a lot. We never used a separate basin to wash our lower parts. After the training, we know we should wash our lower parts often.” Zhao Fu-chun, leader of the women’s group said proudly: “Since the project was launched, interpersonal contact has increased. We are no longer so shy and now dare to speak up in front of many people. Women rarely took part in meetings with community organizations before. Now the number of women who take part has increased, and they speak up in meetings too. Since the organization of the women’s activity group, women gather together to sing and dance and share experiences. This helps to reduce the psychological pressure women face and enriches our spiritual life!”

Village doctors: I was selected by my village folks

Following completion of their training and practice, village doctors have returned to their villages to serve their communities and have helped many villagers deal with the distress caused by sickness. They work meticulously, are attentive and considerate, and the fees they charge are not high. Because of this, they have earned the trust of villagers. In October 2008, in the early hours of the morning at 5 a.m., Yu Ding-chun, the wife of villager Jiang Zhi-neng, became very unwell. Jiang quickly ran to look for Liu Jun-cheng, the village doctor trained by the project. When Liu realised that Yu was suffering from massive vaginal bleeding, in accordance with his training, he immediately told the family to send Yu to the Pingxi Town Central Health Clinic. Not knowing the graveness of his wife’s condition, Jiang Zhi-neng thought the doctor was exaggerating and told the doctor to have breakfast first before taking Yu to the clinic. The village doctor was anxious and said: “There’s no time for breakfast! Call for a car immediately and take her to the clinic!” While calling for a car, the village doctor gave the patient emergency treatment. By the time the car arrived, Yu was already in a coma. When she reached the clinic, doctors there realized that she was in a very serious condition. They were not confident that they could help and told the family to take the patient directly to the county hospital. In the end, Yu Ding-chun received a 1,200 ml blood transfusion and her life was saved. There have been similar occasions in which the village doctor played a critical role in treating and saving villagers’ lives. The responsible attitude and success of the village doctor has won villagers’ respect for him. In response to the compliments from the villagers, Dr. Li, who was slow with words, said: “That’s because I was selected by my village folks.”

Three years ago, Li Zheng-mei and Liu Jun-cheng were selected by the villagers to take part in the village doctors’ training. Li was only 17 then. Even though she was young and had only primary education, her responsibility was not light. After completing the training programme, she took on a role providing healthcare to women and children in the village. As early as July 2007, before completion of the village doctor’s training and internship, there was an emergency case where a woman had a retained placenta after giving birth at home. As it turned out, Li was in the village. She applied the knowledge and skills she had gained in the training and removed the placenta manually, thus saving the life of the woman. During the final assessment of the project, this incident was fully affirmed by Zhu Ya-bing, a Yunnan expert in maternal and child health. In 2008, Li was responsible for the supplementary measles vaccination programme for children aged between 8 and 14 months in Yaopoli and Goujiaping. In order that the children got their vaccination in time, she had to walk dozens of kilometers along trails deep within mountainous areas. But she was undeterred by the challenges, saying: “I think, as a doctor, I must do my best to meet my responsibility. Since the vaccines have to be kept at low temperature, I must give vaccinations to the children as soon as possible. I can keep going no matter how hard it is.”

Gao Xue-song (Sichuan Programme Officer, PCD)