Chinese aid doctor diagnoses COVID-19’s high death rate in Italy

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/19 21:18:40

The expert team is ready for departure in Shanghai to Italy to help fight COVID-19 on March 12 Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Before going to Rome on March 12, Liang Zong'an, director of the respiratory, pulmonary and critical care medicine department of West China Hospital affiliated to Sichuan University, had been working on the frontline of treating COVID-19 patients in Sichuan Province for more than a month.

As a renowned respiratory specialist in China, Liang and other eight medical experts were dispatched by the Chinese National Health Commission and the Red Cross Society of China to Italy to help fight against the pandemic. 

Repay kindness

"After the earthquake jolted Wenchuan of Sichuan Province in 2008, Italy provided assistance. We remember their kind moves and we will repay their kindness," said Liang.

With the epidemic situation in Sichuan is improving while the Europe has become the new epicenter, Liang received an urgent notice to support Italy. 

"My wife and son are worried about me, but it's my job. I am the director of the respiratory department, so I should go," Liang said. "After the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ravaged China, I have seen some acute infectious diseases, and it's usually not a problem as long as protective measures have been taken in accordance with procedures," Liang said in a CCTV report.

After preparing a passport, visa and luggage within a day, Liang and his team from Sichuan Province took off to Rome.

Italy extended nationwide emergency measures on March 10. 

"There are no people, no cars on the street," Liang said. "Rome used to be crowded with tourists as it has a lot of historical relics, and after the city was 'locked,' the streets become so empty and military or police can be seen everywhere." 

On March 13, the Chinese medical expert team consulted with their Italian peers to exchange protection knowledge and share China's experience in controlling the pandemic. On March 14, they went to two hospitals in Rome to learn the situation.

Liang Zong'an, director of the respiratory, pulmonary and critical care medicine department of West China Hospital of Sichuan University Photo: Courtesy of West China Hospital of Sichuan University

"Sharing China's epidemic prevention and control experience is one of my tasks," said Liang. "It is important to share how China handled the situation and allow them to choose useful information according to the actual conditions and situation in Italy," said Liang.

The northern region of Lombardy has been severely affected by the novel coronavirus in Italy. Although the situation in Rome is not that severe, the city has been preparing medical resources for possible changes. "For example, the ICU of a hospital in Rome only has 16 beds but it will soon increase to 170," Liang shared.

Liang believes the high death rate in northern Italy is because the medical systems were handicapped by the influx of severe patients who did not go to the hospital early enough. The high death rate "may be caused by two factors," said Liang. "Similar with the situation in China, most of the infected patients are at senior ages, and senior patients with underlying health problems are prone to be infected and die from it." 

"Some got their treatment too late as the disease didn't raise too much attention in the earlier period, which led to the accumulation of too many patients that medical systems couldn't handle," he explained.

China followed the principle that discovering, reporting, diagnosis and isolation should be done as soon as possible. Liang believes the principle is adaptable for Italy. However, the country does not need to completely follow China's experience such as centralizing experts and medical resources or quarantining and treating patients in groups, he suggested.

"Italy has completed medical care and public health systems, especially their family doctor system," Liang said. "The 'centralizing' principle could be used according to the actual situation in Italy as we strongly suggested that severe and critical patients must be centralized for treatment, which is important to control the infection source, cut virus transmission channels, and protect the uninfected group."

In China, all the infected patients were hospitalized to be treated and observed together, but in Italy, home-quarantine works too if the family doctor team is well mobilized.

Crusading doctor

After learning Liang left for to Italy to help the country fight against COVID-19, people in his hometown put up a banner, expressing hope for his safe return. "We are so proud of him," said an official of Liang's village.

Liang was born in 1962 in Bazhong of Southwest China's Sichuan Province. As the eldest child with three siblings, Liang recalls his parents were the strictest with him growing up.

But that did not stop Liang from developing a calm character and a deep interest in learning. During his elementary and secondary education, Liang was the best student among his peers. 

Liang took the college entrance examination in 1979 hoping to become a doctor. That year, he was accepted by West China Center of Medical Sciences of Sichuan University.

Liang said he appreciated the precious opportunity and swore to be a good doctor. Since becoming a doctor, Liang has provided help to local hospitals and villagers every time he goes back to his hometown.

In his communication with a local hospital, Liang shared measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic and provided guidance on treatment plans. "It was the support technique from Professor Liang that helped our hospital to better roll out epidemic control and prevention," said Li Jiaguo, director of the local hospital. Li expressed gratitude for Liang's support to his hospital.

Newspaper headline: Prescribing Hope

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