In a green tent marked with a red cross in the courtyard of the Fifth Army Division Hospital of the Lao People’s Armed Forces (LPAF) in Pakse, Champasak Province, members of the “Peace Train” medical team from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were engrossed with their work. Locals waited patiently in a queue for medical consultation at reception desk next to the tent. The flag of the medical mission and a banner reading “Long Live China-Laos Friendship” in both Chinese and Lao were particularly eye-catching against the blue sky and white clouds.
In August, three “Peace Train” units were respectively dispatched to Vientiane, Pakse and Xieng Khouang of Laos to provide healthcare services for the local military and civilians. They offered free consultations, physical examinations and surgeries, and the program was quickly embraced by locals.
Enhancing Local Health
Khanmay, a Pakse local, traveled dozens of kilometers in the early morning to see doctors from the “Peace Train” mission. “Thanks to my nephew’s help with registration, I received treatment from the Chinese medical team the day they opened,” beamed Khanmay, who had suffered knee pains and difficulties walking for more than a decade and was diagnosed knee osteoarthritis at his consultation. “I feel much better now after treatment from the Chinese medical staff.”
In Vientiane, locals were impressed by the state-of-the-art equipment in the tent. Instruments for laboratory tests, radiography and ultrasound scanning were housed in specially designed waterproof and shock resistant containers. “Thanks to the advanced equipment, the Chinese doctors work very efficiently even in this field hospital,” remarked Vongkham Phommakone, director of the LPAF General Logistics Department, after a visit to the tent. “We can draw on not only the medical techniques, but also their experiences in military logistics support and coordination. We have much to learn from our Chinese counterparts to better treat the Lao army and public.”
Doctors’ fine conduct and superb clinical expertise have earned the “Peace Train” medical team a sterling reputation in Vientiane and Pakse after serving numerous local patients seeking professional medical treatment. Having suffered lower back pain for more than 20 years, Bunsong, an officer from the LPAF Fifth Army Division, was diagnosed by Chinese orthopedic specialist Xu Bin as having a herniated disc with lumbar spondylolisthesis. He was told that without clinical intervention, the nerve compression would exacerbate and could eventually lead to paralysis of the lower limbs. Doctor Liu suggested immediate surgery at LPAF No. 103 Hospital, an assistance project built by China. “Chinese doctors are highly skilled, and I’m grateful for their efforts,” Bunsong gasped.
In addition to the free medical consultations, health checkups and surgeries, a series of training and exchange activities were organized for Lao medical personnel including academic lectures, surgical instructions and discussions on difficult cases. Through in-depth experience sharing, classroom instruction, demonstration and joint clinical practice, the Chinese medical team hoped to leave Laos a “medical corps that never leaves.”
During their stay in Champasak Province, the third “Peace Train” unit dispatched a medical group to Sanamxay District in neighboring Attapeu Province, where local villages had been hit by floods after a dam collapsed last year. A “Peace Train” medical task force carried out immediate rescue missions when the disaster happened. “Members of the ‘Peace Train’ mission and locals are both witnesses to the profound friendship between China and Laos,” declared Senior Colonel Song Yu, an officer with Health Bureau of Logistic Support Department of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of China. “The medical team was commissioned by leaders of the two countries to return to Attapeu to follow up on their treatment of people in flood-affected areas.”
On the day of the “Peace Train” mission’s return, many villagers gathered at a resettlement center of Sanamxay District early in the morning. At the temporary clinic, expert in liver and infectious diseases Wang Maorong was surrounded by a crowd of patients. The Chinese medical group focused on diagnosing infectious diseases like dengue fever, malaria, hepatitis and tuberculosis. To ensure quick identification of the source of infection, the team employed a variety of test strips and reagents.
“The ‘Peace Train’ task force arrived just in time to save us,” exclaimed a villager named Khamphouy. “I deeply appreciate their help!”
When the medical group was about to leave at the end of the day, many villagers were reluctant to leave and grasped the hands of the Chinese doctors for a good while. “We almost lost hope last year,” villager Imouth lamented. “A lot of people were homeless and sick after the flood. The Chinese medical team offered timely assistance and lifted us out of desperation. Today the team came back and organized a free clinic for us. We are deeply thankful for their help.”
In addition to providing healthcare services for the locals, the “Peace Train” also organized a humanitarian medical rescue exercise alongside local rescue workers during the visit to Laos. To improve coordination during a medical emergency response, around 500 soldiers performed every step of a disaster relief mission in a simulated mudslide including integrated training, tabletop exercises, field training exercises, observation and evaluation.
Improving Local Medical Services
Working with the PLA medical staff for several days helped Dr. Khammay, head of the LPAF Fifth Army Division Hospital, obtain better understanding of his Chinese counterparts. “These Chinese doctors showed great medical expertise and rich clinical experience in the process of examination, diagnosis and treatment, and they contributed greatly to improving medical services in Laos,” he declared.
Uyenpheng, deputy director of Health Bureau of the LPAF General Logistics Department, participated in all the “Peace Train” missions over the past three years. According to him, China has made continuous efforts to provide Laos with medical services, medicines, devices and training, and Lao and Chinese militaries have deepened their cooperation in medical emergency response and disaster relief. “The PLA ‘Peace Train’ medical team has played an important role in modernizing Laos’ healthcare sector,” he attested.
Vongkham remarked that collaboration between Lao and Chinese armies in many areas, especially in healthcare, has been strengthened through the “Peace Train” activities. The two sides will further enhance bilateral exchange, optimize cooperation mechanisms and work together to raise the “Peace Train” to a flagship program, he added.
“The ‘Peace Train’ joint exercise this year sets the bar of China-Laos exchange in health and military logistics and marks a new day for friendly cooperation,” opined Chen Jingyuan, director of the Health Bureau of the CMC General Logistics Department.