Veteran medical worker dedicated to helping poor patients in Tanzania

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/29 20:32:42


Song Tao donates money to a patient who suffered burns. Photo: Courtesy of Song Tao

Traveling around the world on aid missions may sound like a glamorous calling, but when Song Tao, a Chinese medical worker, announced that he would go to Tanzania on one such mission, his friends "went visibly pale."

In 2007, at the age of 28, despite his family's reluctance to let him go, Song passed all the physical checks and became an interpreter and coordinator for the Chinese medical team heading to Tanzania.

Since then, he has been offering his services in the country, stretching his initial two-year posting from 2007 to today.

"With tens of hundreds of confirmed cases of Ebola or various types of malaria, over half of which have resulted in death, I asked myself if I was scared," Song said, "but the answer was no."

Song's job is a difficult one, which can partly be seen from the countless mosquito bites and insect infestations on his arms and legs that he refers to as "Tanzanian stamps."

In 2008, fatigue and overwork combined with countless journeys to different villages even resulted in Song suffering from serious malaria and a worsening fever lasting more than two months that could have been fatal.

Recalling the memory, Song told the Global Times, "I enjoy making contributions to Tanzania. With the growing responsibility and mutual understanding, I think of myself as a bridge and a great example of Sino-Tanzanian friendship."

The Chinese Medical Team treats villagers in Tanzania in October 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Song Tao

Medical missions

Song's medical team includes 25 Chinese doctors from Shandong Province who currently work at various hospitals in Tanzania.

Very often, the whole team organizes free medical treatment sessions in remote villages where medical resources are extremely scarce.

Song says they have held more than 150 volunteer medical service events in Tanzanian villages over the past decades.

On some occasions, pharmaceutical materials were delivered to large barns which have loudspeakers attached to them broadcasting the volunteer service to the whole village.

During peak times, some patients even camp out before the gates open, sleeping in tents or on the ground so that they don't miss their opportunity. Some trek from villages up to 30 kilometers away, and sometimes four generations of a family come to use the services. The high demand for treatment always results in the team extending their original schedule, said Song.

The patients express gratitude to the team by presenting gifts of local foods such as eggs and pineapples. When they visited a remote village located in Mara region, the local government gave them a pair of lambs, the noblest gift the local people can offer to a foreign medical team.

In 2008, after rounds of consultation and research from joint field trips, the medical team took the initiative to fund a cardiac surgery center at the Muhimbili National Hospital.

The center, inaugurated in 2014, attracted nationals and even patients from neighboring countries for its quick and high-quality treatment.

Social involvement

Beside providing medical support, the Chinese medical team also gets involved in social activities in Tanzania. These have included making donations in 2017 at the annual Rotary Dar Marathon, a national fundraising event that helps address community issues, and distributing free drugs and special masks for sufferers of albinism in a national campaign.

Song's most rewarding work was in Dar Es Salaam, where he gave Sh100,000 ($44.30) to Ms Neema Wambura, who was admitted to Muhimbili National Hospital recently for burns she suffered after her husband reportedly poured hot soup on her in a suspected domestic dispute.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli also showed his support for victims of domestic violence, giving the woman Sh500,000 to help her with the cost of treatment.

Song believes that this kind of involvement is a great way of integrating into local society.

In order to improve communication, Song also learned the local language and dialect, and encouraged his colleagues to wear Tanzanian national dress to make locals feel more comfortable.

"The friendly approach is always the best way to deal with local people, rather than just giving aid in patronizing ways, which the locals find repulsive," Song told the Global Times.


In addition to offering medical services, the Chinese team also spends a great deal of effort promoting themselves.

"Foreign aid programs are a field of competition where no guns are fired. Compared with some countries like Japan and the US, the Chinese medical team remains low-key in its media exposure."

"It is our job to let more people know about the Chinese medical team," he said.

Song believes his team's achievements should be made known to the people of both countries to strengthen the link between medical aid and public diplomacy.

"A local official once told me that although the Chinese medical team has made a huge contribution to the African medical system over the past 50 years, there are many locals who cannot get rid of the Western rhetoric of 'Chinese new colonialism' which criticizes China for so-called exploitation of African natural resources," said Song.

As the team prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year for its presence and provision of services in Tanzania, Song published his book named Devoting Valuable Youth, 3,156 Days to Serving Tanzania.

The book, now being translated into English and Swahili, is expected to depict how the team carries out its missions in a foreign land, and to promote long-term friendship between Tanzania and China.

Newspaper headline: Man on a mission


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