Site Visit: Surmang Foundation
Surmang Foundation runs a free clinic in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and provides free healthcare and medical services to the nomads, farmers and inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau. Many patients come from far away villages and cities to seek treatment, because they’d heard wonderful things about the doctors at the Surmang clinic. And all well deserved compliments, we soon found out.
Janis, a volunteer who used to work as a translator for Surmang Foundation, and Dr. Phuntsok had very kindly agreed to drive us to the clinic. It was a four hour trip out to the clinic from the nearest city, Jiegu, and it only served to show how far people would trek out for the clinic’s services. Upon arrival, we met Dr. Drogha, her daughter, the lady who would help out with chores and the gatekeeper’s wife. There was a familial feel to the crowd, we ate all our meals together and there was a quiet trust among everyone.
The next day, Dr. Drogha very kindly allowed us to observe her while she treated patients. Mari and I decided to split up - I would observe the treatments, while Mari would interview the patients as they were leaving. Watching Dr. Drogha working was inspiring. She treated every patient with dignity and respect, and it was clear that while most of the patients were much older than her, they had immense respect for her. Despite the joviality in the treatment room, Dr. Drogha was serious and dedicated. I watched her count out pills into little bags, and she said that while she wanted to treat patients, the clinic could not afford to let medicine go to waste. A lot of patients would feel better after taking maybe 3 days of medication, and let the rest of the pills go to waste. Since the clinic was running on donations, the doctors wanted to conserve as much medicine as they could, and would give patients with less severe symptoms about 7 days of medication.
Surmang Clinic also has a Community Health Workers (CHW) program, aimed at training local women to become midwives, in an effort to reduce infant and maternal mortality. CHWs who care for pregnant women carry out three pre-natal visits, deliver the baby and then carry out three post-natal visits, to ensure both infant and mother are healthy. They are compensated 200RMB (about 30 USD) per patient. Although we didn’t manage to meet the CHWs, a mother-to-be under the care of a CHW, came into the clinic for her free ultrasound. The clinic does ultrasounds for free, however, mandating that patients under the care of the CHWs come in for ultrasounds also allows the clinic to account for the work of the CHWs.
Surmang Clinic is looking to expand the CHW program, given its tremendous success. However, the main obstacle has been funding, since CHWs are compensated for their time and effort. While we were there, many patients had nothing to say but good things about the clinic - how the medicine was more effective than traditional Tibetan medicine, how it was great that it was free and accessible, and how the doctors did amazing work.
Dr. Phuntsok and Dr. Drogha are both modest, but the level of dedication they have to their job is inspiring. The clinic has no opening and closing hours, the gates are open to anyone at any time. While we were there, coming back from a walk at around 9 at night, a patient had come to the clinic seeking help for an injury. Dr. Drogha immediately went to work, no questions asked. It is the continual hard work of the doctors, the success of their treatments and the CHW program that has built trust and faith in the inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau.
Mari and I were both sad to leave, and as we left, the gatekeeper’s wife laid prayer scarves around our necks and had tears in her eyes. As she chanted prayers, we said our goodbyes, and drove away back to Jiegu. This visit to Surmang has definitely been an unforgettable one - and I can only hope the clinic continues to grow and expand!
Read more about, and donate to the amazing work Surmang Foundation is doing here: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/yushu-earthquake-survival/
Charlene is an InTheField traveler with GlobalGiving, and is travelling through China this summer. Read more about her experiences in China at charinthefield.tumblr.com! Find out more about (or donate on!) GlobalGiving at globalgiving.org