Becky Lim and Wendy Cheung
“Compassion is not sloppy sentimentalism, nor does it compromise the truth. Biblical compassion, combining heartfelt emotion with active relief for the suffering…enter into the very heart and mystery of God.” (Brennan Manning)
When I first came to Zhaojue in 1997, an elderly Asian couple – a public health physician & nurse – were there to start a community health programme. Dr. George Chew saw the need for a TB programme in 2000. Sure enough, we saw 30 patients daily, reaching almost 2000 patients in a year.
In the course of our TB project, we found two obstacles to successful treatment. First, the patients failed to return to continue receiving their drugs due to lack of information in their Nosu Yi language. Second, some of those treated did not respond and a few died. Most of those who did not respond to the TB treatment were ill with another disease – HIV/AIDS.
In 2001, Dr. Joseph Chang and his wife joined the team to continue the TB project. He asked three local Nosu Yi young medical volunteers to do patient education about TB and to emphasise the need to take the TB drugs for at least 6 months.
At that time, I remembered that Doctors without Borders under the Public Health Bureau came and started to target the high-risk group for HIV/AIDS. However, after a few years, the organisation left Zhaojue. In August 2012, the Red Ribbon AIDS China Care built and inaugurated a new HIV Centre inside the Zhaojue County Hospital. There, they diagnose, treat and manage all the HIV/AIDS patients in outpatient and inpatient settings.
A Chinese American HIV specialist, Dr. Cheung and his paediatrician wife, spearheaded the MSI HIV/AIDS programme, in cooperation with the Zhaojue HIV Centre. MSI subsidised the hiring of three local nurses who managed the overwhelming number of outpatients. They were empowered and enabled to educate patients on HIV, its transmission, need for drug compliance, and their side effects. Peer counselling was the most cost-effective method for achieving drug compliance. This year, we almost achieved 75% drug compliance, up from 50%, by daily outpatient and weekly inpatient training.
This HIV work has now also moved to Meigu where a new project working with HIV children has started.
The paediatric HIV clinic is a weekly clinic-serving children under 14 years of age infected with HIV. The clinic is staffed by a paediatrician, a pharmacist and a nurse. Whenever appropriate, we invite our short-term teams to participate. What we do in the clinic is quite basic: making sure that these children are taking their medications, checking that the dosage is correct, tracking their growth, and addressing side effects and other health concerns.
A hundred children have been seen thus far. Alarmingly, but not surprisingly, 56% of the children are stunted in their growth, indicating chronic malnutrition. Sadly, and again not surprisingly, 45% of them have lost one or both of their parents. Looking into their eyes and catching a glimpse of their sadness, our hearts cannot help but ache for them.
What we do in the clinic may be basic, and what we can offer may be limited, but we try to do it in a compassionate way, modelling after the Compassionate One. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn and practice compassion, even as I experience His compassion every day.