Flipping through an old photo album, Zhang Youming, 90, showed the journalist a picture of herself taken in the Algerian city of Saida, in which she embraces a local girl with big eyes. “This child told me she wanted me to be her mother,” she said.
In 1963, China sent its first medical team abroad to help post-war Algeria rebuild its medical and healthcare services. After gaining independence in 1962, Algeria found itself in a difficult situation: almost all French doctors had left, and the Algerian people lacked medical care and medications. The country had no choice but to seek help from the international community. China was the first country to respond to the call.
On April 6, 1963, the first Chinese medical team departed from Beijing. It took ten days for the team to finally reach the northwestern Algerian province of Saida, traveling by plane, train and by road through Moscow, Belgrade and Rabat. Zhang, a doctor from Xiangya Hospital in central China’s Hunan Province, was a member of the team.
During her two-and-a-half-year stay in Algeria, Zhang successfully performed thousands of surgeries and delivered many Algerian children. She once wrote in her journal, “As a member of the first medical team sent by new China to support Africa, I left my family behind to ease the pain of the people of a foreign country. My heart feels satisfied and happy, and I have sensed a different value of life.”
In late 1963, Zhang treated a pregnant woman suffering from hemorrhage. By successfully operating on her, Zhang saved her life and safely delivered her baby. The mother then named her child “Chinese” in Arabic. “She wanted the child to remember that it was the Chinese who saved their lives,” she recalled.
When she left Saida in November 1965, many patients took her hands and asked her to stay. Wiping away her tears, she bid them farewell, saying, “The next Chinese medical team will take care of you just as we did. Don’t worry!”
As of May 2023, China had sent 27 medical teams consisting of a total of 3,522 members to assist Algeria, treating approximately 27.41 million patients and delivering 2.08 million newborns. Today, 90 percent of obstetric surgeries in the province of Saida are performed by Chinese doctors, and even patients from neighboring provinces come to Saida to seek help.
“Chinese doctors are so important to Saida,” said Girali Feltu, head of the gynecology and obstetrics department at Saida Maternity Hospital, who has been working with Chinese doctors for 16 years.
The Chinese medical teams have not only saved lives and treated the wounded but also brought medical knowledge and techniques to this North African country, helping train a large number of local medical professionals.
“The Chinese medical teams are dedicated and highly cooperative. They share their experience and skills with Algerian doctors and students,” said Nadjet Akhnak, director of the Mother and Child Hospital in the northeastern Algerian province of Setif.
According to the National Health Commission of China, in the past 60 years, China has dispatched a total of 30,000 medical personnel to 76 countries and regions worldwide, with 290 million patients treated. China’s selfless medical assistance and support have won huge appreciation of the recipient countries.