An appointment with hope

Despite the heat, 79-year-old Yudron was among the hundreds of local residents who lined up outside the local medical center in a remote township in the Tibet autonomous region waiting for the chance to see visiting experts from Beijing-based hospitals and medical institutions.

The members of the visiting medical team were among 800 medical professionals and volunteers from Beijing visiting Nyingchi as part of an annual nine-day charity program, called China Hearts, that sends medical volunteers to underdeveloped and remote parts of China.

The medical team that arrived in Yuxu township early in the morning on July 9 comprised 40 doctors and volunteers, and they received nearly 800 patients, mostly Tibetans, in two days.

According to Yudron, the villagers in the neighborhood were informed in advance that there would be free clinic services, and they knew it was an opportunity too good to miss.

"We were excited about it and came to join the line immediately after lunch," says Yudron, who was given free medicine after receiving her diagnosis.

"The doctors were very professional and patient. I'm very satisfied with the service I received."

Yudron says she usually visits the township's medical center, which is just one kilometer away from her village, if she has any health issues. But the center can only handle small medical problems, as it is relatively poorly equipped and has no well-trained doctors.

Although the county hospital has better medical facilities and doctors, it is 70 kilometers away in Bomi - more than two hours ride on the mountain roads, Yudron says.

Because of this, she rarely visits the county hospital and the small private clinics in Bomi county for her health problems, including one with her digestive system that has troubled her for nearly three decades.

"It's a lot of trouble and more costly to go to a hospital in the county town. So we usually go there to buy medicine only once in a while and take the medicine back to be treated at the township medical center," Yudron says.

Several of her family members, who are all farmers, have health problems. The cost of medicine is still a burden for them, despite favorable policies that reimburse them to some extent. The family spent more than 30,000 yuan ($4,410; 3,788 euros; £3,394) on medicine last year.

The medical team visiting Yuxu also attracted many residents from villages far away from the township.

Tsedro, 29, brought his mother on his motorbike from their village, which is nearly 40 km away.

"We were informed that experts from Beijing would be holding a free clinic in the township, so we headed out early to catch it," says Tsedro. "The doctors checked us and gave us some medicine, plus some suggestions for the future. It's helpful."

His mother has liver disease, and Tsedro suffers from a stomach illness.

Outlining the shortage of healthcare professionals and facilities in the area, Zhang Bin, director of Bomi county's healthcare department, says there are only three medical institutions in Bomi, which have just 55 medical workers, while another 64 medical workers are divided among 11 township-level health centers in the county, which has a population of more than 30,000.

"We lack professional medical staff. Often one person has to take on multiple jobs," says Zhang, adding that not only do they lack enough medical workers, they also lack infrastructure investment, medical facilities and funds.

He praises the China Hearts program, saying: "Such charitable projects not only bring us good medical services, medicine and equipment, but they also help train the local medical workers."

Doctors specializing in 10 clinical areas, such as cardiovascular diseases and gynecology, were among the team that visited Yuxu.

According to Hu Sanbao, director of the department of orthopedics of Beijing's Anzhen Hospital, one of the volunteer doctors who visited Yuxu, residents in the region commonly suffer from such health problems as rheumatism and arthritis, as a result of the climate and the locals' traditional living environment.

Under the China Hearts program, which was initiated in 2008 by medical experts and philanthropists in Beijing, health services are provided to underdeveloped and remote parts of China.

A committee organizes the program each year. So far, the organization has sent more than 20,000 volunteers to provide medical services to farmers and herdsmen in various regions, and the local healthcare facilities receive medicine.

In Nyingchi, medicine worth 8 million yuan was delivered to local hospitals and other medical institutions.

In addition, contributions and donations worth over 200 million yuan have been given to the needy, and nearly 10,000 local medical workers have received training over the years, thanks to the program.

It is estimated that more than 500,000 people have directly benefited from the program over the years, including nearly 1,000 children with congenital heart disease who have undergone free surgery.