African postdoctoral TCM practitioner helps tackle COVID-19

By Xu Xiaoxuan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 28, 2020
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Diarra Boubacar writing prescriptions for the patients. [Photo/]

Diarra Boubacar, the first foreigner to get a postdoctoral degree in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has been studying and conducting TCM treatments in China for more than 30 years. 

Abandoning Western medicine for traditional Chinese medicine 

Coming from a long line of doctors in the West African country of Mali, the 56-year-old Diarra is now an experienced doctor of TCM in China. 

In the 1960s, TCM therapies such as acupuncture and cupping introduced by Chinese medical teams in Africa fascinated the then young boy. "It was really mesmerizing to see the Chinese doctors treat patients only with a silver needle," Diarra said. 

"Maybe that was when my idea of practicing TCM began to germinate." 

In 1984, after graduating as a general practitioner from a medical college in Mali, Diarra was sent to China for further study by the Malian government. Initially, Diarra studied general surgery at Beijing Medical University [formerly the Peking University Health Science Center (PKUHSC)], before he gradually became engrossed in TCM that he switched from Western medicine to TCM. 

During the undergraduate study period in Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (GUCM) in Guangdong province, one of the biggest problems facing Diarra was the complicated ancient medical texts. 

"I even failed a course in the first term. It was quite annoying," he recalled. 

To solve the language problem, Diarra bought almost all the reference books about ancient medical texts, including dictionaries for standard Chinese characters. "I read those books every day and recited the words where necessary," he recalled. Eventually, he caught up with other Chinese classmates step by step. 

After achieving a master's degree from GUCM and a doctorate in Chengdu University of TCM, located in southwest China's Sichuan province, Diarra moved on to become a postdoctoral TCM practitioner of TCM. 

At the beginning, however, no patients would turn to him, wondering whether it was possible for a foreigner to understand TCM therapies. After four days of sitting idle in his office, Diarra got his first patient by saying: "Give me a chance, please. I will charge you nothing if it doesn't work." Steadily, by word of mouth, he became established in the hospital. 

Providing medical services in remote mountain areas 

"My father was a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He always told me that if I know what good deeds are but don't carry them out, then it's a sin," he recalled. 

In 1997, a charity project of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) first brought Diarra to some remote villages, faced with a great shortage of medical resources, in southwest China's Yunnan province. 

There, Diarra, along with other volunteers, treated villagers with leprosy and AIDS and also introduced disease prevention knowledge. 

Diarra also voluntarily applied to the local governments to be allowed to train doctors for the villages for free. He paid for the trainees' travel and room and board. When the training concluded, he gave them stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers, thermometers, medicine and medical books. Thus far, Diarra has helped coached more than 3,000 village doctors. 

On top of offering medical assistance, Diarra attempted to help address other problems for the villagers like lack of access to drinking water and electricity. 

In the front line fighting COVID-19 

In early February when the coronavirus was rampant in China, Diarra hastened to the First People's Hospital in Yiliang county, Yunnan province to join the fight against the epidemic. 

"It happened that my postdoctoral research project was just to study Jiuwei Yiqi Qingwen Decoction and Shuanghuanghua Granula [two kinds of Chinese medicine], which could be used for the prevention and treatment of acute respiratory infection," said Diarra. 

For want of medical supplies at that time, Diarra could only wear a new surgical mask every three days in the hospital, disinfecting the mask worn during the day by UV light at night. 

What concerned him in the pandemic was his motherland and compatriots. He sent some ready-made Chinese medicine to 88 fellow Malians then in China and told them to follow recommended prevention measures. As a result, none of them became infected. Together with his TCM teachers and some other Chinese institutions, he also donated over 200,000-yuan worth of Chinese medicine and masks to Mali in three batches through the Malian Embassy in China. 

"Traditional Chinese medicine is not only useful to the Chinese people, but also a treasure for the world," he said, hoping to promote TCM so that more people in Africa and beyond could learn about and benefit from it.

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