Tibetans are genuinely happy to clap eyes on the Health Express, a hospital train sponsored by Hong Kong donors which has provided free medical surgery to 636 cataract sufferers in the region.
"Health Express has given me my sight back, I am truly grateful," said Bianqiong, a 60-year-old farmer from Xigaze.
He began to suffer from cataract in the right eye three years ago. His worsening eyesight meant that he often stumbled and fell and found it very difficult to continue farming.
He first tried going to a local hospital but was too poor to afford surgery. He then turned to eye drops that proved to be of little use.
Health Express not only gave him free treatment, but also covered his board and travel expenses, the farmer said.
"It is the first time Health Express has come to Tibet. It is an important charity event that marks the 10th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the motherland," said Degyi, vice chairwoman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, on Monday while joining Health Express doctors to visit patients.
Gao Hucheng, vice minister of commerce, said "I hope that Health Express will not only restore their sight to Tibetan patients, but also prompt the flow of more aid into Tibet."
One of the three Health Express trains that take oculists across the country began receiving cataract patients on June 15 in Lhasa, and plans to offer free medical surgery for 1,000 sufferers by July 30.
The "Health Express" is sponsored by Hong Kong donors, who funded three such trains in 1997, 1999 and 2002, and have helped more than 60,000 cataract patients regain their sight since 1997.
China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation donated 30 million HK dollars on June 23 for the fourth train that will operate next year.
Remote areas, especially those at high altitudes with cold air, low oxygen levels and strong ultraviolet light, have a high incidence of cataract, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and can lead to blindness.
Cataract surgery costs patients more than 5,000 yuan (nearly US$660) in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, a sum out of the reach of people in underdeveloped regions, Dong said.
Tibet has offered free cataract surgery for more than 5,000 people every year since 2005. But despite the efforts of volunteer doctors from across the country and the world, Tibet still has the highest incidence of cataract in the country, according to a 2002 government report.
(Xinhua News Agency July 10, 2007)