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They Come, They Stay — Stories of Chinese Doctors in Algeria

Bouisidane Fadhila, 44, was in despair before she met Li Hongling, a Chinese doctor who was on an aid mission at a public hospital in the Ain Defla province, northern Algeria.

After being turned down by several public hospitals swamped with patients, the uterine fibroid in Fadhila’s belly had grown to as big as 22cm X 20cm. Private hospitals were not an option for the unmarried and unemployed woman, who lived on meager allowances provided by her two brothers.

“It is Dr. Li that saved my life,” Fadhila told Xinhua, referring to the successful removal of her tumor by Li in December 2022. Li used her spare time to do the operation due to Fadhila’s urgency.

Fadhila is just one of many Algerian patients accepted by Li after being rejected by local public hospitals. Often working in her spare time to treat those patients in urgent need of help, Li has become very popular among her Algerian colleagues in Ain Defla.

Li, 43, is a member of the 27th Chinese medical team sent to work in eight Algerian provinces in 2021.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of China sending its first medical team to Algeria on April 6, 1963. So far, more than 3,500 Chinese medical personnel, mostly obstetricians and acupuncturists, have been sent to the North African country to provide free medical services.

It is never easy for Chinese doctors to settle down in a country far away from home, not to mention that the hospitals they are assigned to work in are usually in remote places with poor conditions. Yet some Chinese doctors chose to overstay their two-year term in order to treat as many as patients possible.

For Li, this is her second term in Algeria, after she finished her first two-year term in 2019.

“I cried for one week after making the decision,” said Li, who felt difficult to leave behind her 11-year-old son when she decided to return to Algeria with the 27th team in 2021.

“As the only doctor that performs gynecological surgery in this hospital, I feel much needed in this place,” Li told Xinhua.

Tu Dachun, former vice director of a hospital in Jingzhou city of central China’s Hubei province, has worked in the North African country for much longer than his colleagues, spending 12 years, or six terms.

Tu, 60, is now working as an Orthopedic surgeon at the Ain Defla public hospital. He said working in Algeria is an “unforgettable experience” in his life despite the heavy workload.

“I have been respected, trusted, and cared for by my Algerian colleagues and patients,” said Tu, who could communicate with his Algerian colleagues and patients in fluent French he learned during his stay in Algeria.

Tu said he was “deeply touched” by the care and protection that he received one day at the outpatient clinic, where two groups of patients and relatives suddenly started a fierce fight. Algerian doctors, nurses, security guards, and even some patients on the scene immediately surrounded him to ensure his safety.

Some of Tu’s patients returned to express gratitude to him, by offering him homemade snacks. “I like them, the Algerians are born to be carefree, optimistic, kind and friendly. Sometimes I even think I have become an Algerian myself after all these years,” said Tu with a laugh.

With the long presence of Chinese doctors, traditional Chinese medical treatment has gradually gained fame in Algeria.

Yang Yi, 56, came to Algeria in 2021 together with her younger sister, who was on the second mission after serving as a member of the 24th batch. She was impressed by the wide acceptance of traditional Chinese medical therapies, including acupuncture, among Algerian patients.

Every day, Yang treats about 20 patients, most of them suffer from pain in the neck, shoulder or hip, as well as arthritis, myelitis, tenosynovitis, and Lumbar disc herniation.

Yang was thrilled to recall the successful treatment of a patient with myelitis, who was paralyzed and could only move her head and neck. After two months of acupuncture treatment last year, the patient was able to stand up and even danced for Yang to express gratitude.

Over the past 60 years, Chinese doctors have treated about 27.37 million Algerian patients and conducted over 1.7 million surgeries, all free of charge. Their dedication, responsibility, care and hard work have won applause not only from the patients but also from their Algerian colleagues.

Habbiche Bouabdellah, head of the Ain Defla public hospital, expressed his gratitude to the Chinese medical staff.

“The Chinese team has made a good impression not only in Ain Defla but also in other places across the country. They have always been available whenever we need their medical services, day and night,” he said.

“The partnership between China and Algeria is excellent, and it is growing every day,” Bouabdellah said, adding that he looks forward to further enhancing medical cooperation and exchange of visits between China and Algeria in the future.