Narrated by Ling Lei, captain of the first peacekeeping medical unit of the Chinese PLA
I led the first Chinese military peacekeeping medical unit from Shenyang to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to perform the Blue Helmet mission on April 7, 2003. The medical unit is mainly based on the staff of the 202nd hospital under the former Shenyang Military Region, with a total of 43 members. We were deployed in Kindu, an important military area in the eastern part of the DRC. Our main task is to provide medical support for peacekeeping units from South Africa, Uruguay, Sweden and Bangladesh as well as United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) military observers and civilian personnel.
At that time, the situation in Kindu was turbulent, and attacks on peacekeepers occurred from time to time. In addition to the frequent armed conflicts, we must also face the threat of harsh natural conditions and severe infectious diseases.
Although we had made sufficient preparations before we left for DRC, we still encountered unexpected challenges after arriving in the mission area. When we arrived at the camp prepared by MONUSCO, the construction of the simple barracks had not yet been completed. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and there were garbage, mosquitoes, and rats all around.
However, due to the tense situation, MONUSCO requested that the hospital open as soon as possible and informed us that the UN verification team would come to inspect the next day. According to relevant UN regulations, our team originally had seven days to prepare for the inspection. The situation at that time really caught us off guard.
After careful labor division, all the team members raced against the clock. They stayed up all night, with all equipment well installed according to the designated locations.
The UN verification team arrived as scheduled the next day. UN verification work has always been known for strict standard. A hospital in the DRC peacekeeping mission area even took three months to pass the verification, while it only took one day for us to pass successfully at one time. MONUSCO spoke highly of us. The then UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs made a special trip from Kinshasa, which is 1,200 kilometers away, to attend the opening ceremony of the hospital.
The DRC has a high malaria incidence, which is also the main reason for non-combat attrition of peacekeeping forces. We mainly used artemisinin drugs made in China and successfully treated many cases of falciparum malaria without any death. When a South African soldier was sent to our hospital, he was unconscious and convulsed with a high fever. He was diagnosed with cerebral malaria. I immediately organized rescue. While giving auxiliary treatment such as cooling and oxygen inhalation, I used artesunate injection made in China. After several days of careful treatment, the patient finally recovered. When a female Uruguayan soldier suffering from falciparum malaria was cured and discharged from the hospital, she hoped to take the hospital gown she wore as a souvenir. She said it was the Chinese peacekeeping doctors who gave her a second chance in life.
In order to save the lives of peacekeepers of various countries and the local people, our unit has successfully performed war injury treatment operations under relatively simple medical conditions. This has caused great repercussions in the entire mission area and has also won the recognition and trust of peacekeepers of various countries and the local people. I often received appointment calls for seeing the doctor from MONUSCO officials in Kinshasa, and some peacekeeping officers and soldiers from other war zones would also travel hundreds of kilometers to visit the Chinese peacekeeping hospital. A Tunisian soldier on duty in Kisangani even wrote on his badge: "If I am injured, please send me to the Chinese peacekeeping hospital in Kindu."
China was the only country among the permanent members of the UN Security Council that sent peacekeeping units to Africa in 2003. Our words and deeds are related to the image of the country and the military. In the foreign exchanges, our unit focused on establishing good cooperative relations with MONUSCO and other peacekeeping forces. We have successively received more than 50 groups of UN visiting groups and peacekeepers from various countries. The Special Assistant to the Secretary-General of the UN said during his visit: "Your performance is very outstanding and can be regarded as a model."
Most of the team members had detected the malaria parasite in their blood during the peacekeeping mission in Kindu. As a medical staff, everyone is well aware of the consequences of not being able to clear pathogens in the body in time, but they have no regrets. I think it is the excellent comprehensive quality and strong dedication that helped our unit establish the high reputation of Chinese military doctors in DRC.