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Village doctor serves nomad camps for decades

By Source:CNTV 2015-09-07

In China, one village doctor usually has to take care of the health of an entire village. The doctor is the general practitioner, the nurse, the ambulance and sometimes, even the midwife. He is on call 24/7 but doesn't belong to the official healthcare system, and his income is limited to farming and a small government subsidy. 

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, where nomad families live far from each other, treating patients can often be difficult. In the third episode of our special series: "Eye on Tibet," our reporter Feng Xin travels to a nomad village and visits a local doctor. 

37-year-old Thubdoi Namgyal has been riding on this grassland for 20 years. From horse to bicycle, and then on to a motorbike, it still takes the doctor at least a good hour to travel from one nomad camp to another.


Strangers terrify 5-year-old Tashi Chodron, but she's always happy to see the man who safely delivered her on a desperate night.

Thubdoi Namgyal has safely delivered more than 50 babies in his village over the past 20 years. Since 2012, all pregnant women in Tibet have been required to deliver their babies at hospitals to reduce the child birth mortality rate. Thubdoi Namgyal has since focused on providing health checkups and workshops for the village's expectant mothers.

The doctor says high blood pressure, long-term gastritis and gynecological diseases are the most common health issues in his village. The cold, dry climate, thin air and poor nutrition often make life a difficult struggle between humans and Mother Nature. 

The Chinese government categorizes residential areas in underdeveloped regions into four levels based on the natural harshness of people’s living conditions. Here in Tibet, the criteria is altitude. This pasturing village is a level-four area, which means it’s 4,500 meters, or 14,700 feet above sea level.

There’s lot of work for Thubdoi Namgyal to do in this village of 1,000 people. The doctor is on the phone most of the time because in addition to treating patients, he’s also responsible for maintaining health records for all children, expectant mothers and those afflicted with special diseases. At the end of each month, he also must bring the data to the township health office.

Thubdoi Namgyal receives just over 1,000 yuan, or 160 US dollars in subsidies from the county health bureau each month. He barely has any other income because of time constraints. Still, the doctor says he's never thought about doing anything else in order to earn a better living. 

Thubdoi Namgyal lives with his mother and sister. He hasn’t married but has a partner and two children who live in another village. For 20 years, he has spent numerous evenings on emergency home visits, sometimes two or three in one night. 

As Thubdoi Namgyal picks herbs on this vast land, he says that back in the day he only wished that he had a motorbike. Now he’s planning to buy a pickup truck to drive emergency patients and soon-to-be mothers to the county hospital. The good doctor doesn't have a driver’s license but nobody will probably check on this wild land.

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