Medical workers distribute donated medicine to residents of rural Shimian county, Sichuan province, on Jan 19. The event was sponsored by charitable organizations and aimed at helping rural residents across the nation get medical supplies. XINHUA
Medical equipment and drugs sent, procedures in place for safe treatment
Oxygen equipment and COVID-19 drugs have been pouring into China's rural areas in concerted efforts to strengthen medical capacity in the countryside to fight the disease.
Wang Huibo, a volunteer at the Fosun Foundation, brought 200 bottles of the domestically developed COVID treatment Azvudine to Xinmin township, Sichuan province, on Jan 19 and distributed them to elderly residents with the help of local healthcare workers.
"Logistics networks are under strain during the holiday. Though the village is remote and coming here in person means an arduous journey, we think it's totally worth it to bring these drugs into the hands of people who need them," he said.
Like other oral COVID pills, Azvudine should be taken within five days of the first sign of symptoms to help prevent high-risk patients from becoming seriously ill. However, as a prescription drug, administering it to patients should be overseen by a physician.
"We came here a bit concerned over whether these drugs can be put into proper use, but it is a big reassurance to see that local health officials have devised procedures after much deliberation," he said.
Wang said village doctors had been asked to notify elderly people in advance and brief them about the medication.
At the township's health clinic, elderly people register their name, age, telephone number and the name of the rural doctor assigned to monitor their health condition before picking up the medication.
"An expert from the county-level hospital also accompanied us to supervise the procedure, and help give instructions on taking the drug, such as patients with kidney problems should have a health checkup at a hospital and consult a doctor before starting treatment," he said.
Xiao Jianhong, head of the health bureau of Shimian county, which administers Xinmin township, said that although the peak of recent infections has passed, the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush from Jan 7 to Feb 15 poses fresh challenges. "The shipment of 1,000 bottles is indeed timely assistance," he said.
The Fosun Foundation, together with drug manufacturers Fosun Pharma and Genuine Biotech, will donate Azvudine worth 100 million yuan ($14.7 million) to rural areas.
To blunt the impact of outbreaks in the countryside, a group of senior health experts based in Shanghai has established an expert committee aimed at improving rural doctors' knowledge of COVID-19 prevention and treatment.
Chen Erzhen, vice-president of Shanghai's Ruijin Hospital, which is affiliated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University's School of Medicine, said during a recent training session held by the committee that rural doctors should improve their ability to detect patients at risk of developing severe cases. This includes identifying telltale symptoms of low oxygen levels in blood and delivering treatment to patients as early as possible.
Efforts to increase the availability of essential medical equipment have also accelerated.
The State Council has sent 32 working groups to rural areas to survey the people's needs and mobilize resources to address the most acute demands. The actions resulted in a nationwide campaign to equip each village-level health facility with two pulse oximeters, which measure the oxygen saturation in blood, and each township-level health center with an oxygen concentrator.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, by Jan 17, Cainiao Logistics, which offered to make deliveries, had sent nearly 1.18 million pulse oximeters to rural areas.
Yuwell Group, a medical equipment manufacturer, offered to donate more than 11,500 oxygen concentrators for rural health clinics in previously impoverished counties. The company prioritized production of these donations and sent them within a week.
"We have coordinated and united multilateral efforts to bolster antivirus support for rural areas," said Mao Dezhi, an official at the ministry. "We have not only sent medical equipment to rural areas, but also provided them with guidance and services to help resolve their medical demands and ensure that they can overcome infection peaks."
Guo Yanhong, head of the National Health Commission's medical emergency department, said the commission has been increasing stockpiles of key medical equipment, including oxygen bags and cylinders, oxygen concentrators and pulse oximeters.
"We have also set up a mechanism to monitor and allocate drug inventories," she said on Jan 19. "So far, the shortage of common drugs at township health clinics has been greatly eased."