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COMMUNITY HEALTH

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SERVING THE COMMUNITY

To provide health care in rural areas, in 1965 the Chinese government began training thousands of young people to treat common ailments. These medical workers, known as barefoot doctors, spent half the working day providing health care and the rest of the time farming as they had done before. By the 1970s, over one million people had been trained. Although private medicine has since replaced the barefoot doctors, the low cost and wide distribution of health care they made possible has never been matched.

Chinese public health poster depicting Mao Zedong and scenes of snail eradication Celebrating the successful eradication of snail fever in Yujiang County, China, 1970
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Chinese Public health poster depicting community members united against the four pests Eradicating the four pests and promoting public health, 1964
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Health campaigns built on the idea that citizens had a responsibility to help one another and that great advances could be made by working together. This poster features people of different ethnicities to inspire everyone to get involved.
Chinese wooden game decorated with images of the 'four pests' Four pests game, ca. 1960
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
One of the largest campaigns targeted the "four pests"—rats, flies, mosquitoes and grain-eating sparrows. With almost three-quarters of the population unable to read or write, to be effective these health education campaigns needed to provide critical information in an easily understandable format.
Community members attend a patriotic health campaign meeting The launch of a patriotic health campaign, China, 1970s
Courtesy WHO/Ministry of Public Health China
In 1949, the Chinese Communists defeated the Nationalist forces and founded the People's Republic of China. After years of civil war, health conditions in the country were poor. The government launched "Great Patriotic Health Campaigns" to teach communities how to prevent common illnesses. In villages throughout the country, citizens learned about hygiene and how to eradicate disease-carrying pests such as snails and mosquitoes.
Chinese public health poster depicting children working to stop the 'four pests' Four pests poster for children, 1961
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Audio Tour Audio Tour Stop #3 Transcript
Chinese public health poster depicting a female Chinese barefoot doctor Go to the countryside to serve the 500 million peasants, 1965
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Although patriotic health campaigns were successful, most people had no access to a physician when they needed medical treatment. Living in the countryside, far from fully-equipped medical facilities, the nearest health care center could be a three-day walk away. In June 1965, Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Communist Party, called for young men and women to train as barefoot doctors to deliver health care wherever it was needed.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE:

Former barefoot doctor Ying Lowrey describes a difficult case.

Transcript
Ying Lowrey's stethoscope Stethoscope used by Ying Lowrey in Tibet, ca. 1976
Courtesy Ying Lowrey, Ph.D.
In the 1960s, Ying Lowrey met a medical student who taught her acupuncture. She was fascinated by the technique and decided to learn more. In 1966, Lowrey became a barefoot doctor, based in the Chinese countryside. After more than four years she moved to Tibet to continue this work.
Lowrey considered this stethoscope and training manual her two most important pieces of equipment. She used them daily and was prepared for a wide range of situations. Patients with lung infections, parents with sick children, and workers injured in the fields called on her for help.
Instructor and students at a Chinese barefoot doctors' class Students studying to become barefoot doctors, Xinhua commune, China, 1972
Courtesy Jeoffry B. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H.
The people who were chosen by their communities to become barefoot doctors spent between one and four months studying anatomy, bacteriology, disease diagnosis, acupuncture, family planning, maternal and infant care, and traditional and Western medicines with teams of medical staff. All received a barefoot doctor's manual—a comprehensive guide to the many health issues they were trained to treat.
A barefoot doctor's bag A barefoot doctor's bag, 1972
Courtesy Jeoffry B. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H.
Barefoot doctors learned how to deal with a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, using both traditional Chinese methods such as acupuncture as well as Western treatments. Patients with very serious conditions or who needed specialized care would be referred to doctors at larger health centers.
Chinese barefoot doctors learn about herbal medicine from herb grower An herb grower teaches barefoot doctors about medicinal plants, Mount Huangshan, China, 1977
Courtesy WHO/Chinese Ministry of Health
Chinese Barefoot doctor's manual depicting a diagram of a male human figure Barefoot Doctor's Manual, 1976
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
The people who were chosen by their communities to become barefoot doctors spent between one and four months studying anatomy, bacteriology, disease diagnosis, acupuncture, family planning, maternal and infant care, and traditional and Western medicines with teams of medical staff. All received a barefoot doctor's manual—a comprehensive guide to the many health issues they were trained to treat.
Man receives cupping treatment on his arm A patient receives a cupping treatment, Shanghai, China, 1972
Courtesy Jeoffry B. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H.
Chinese barefoot doctor at work in health station A barefoot doctor in a rural health station, China, 1971
Courtesy Victor W. Sidel, M.D.
Patients were treated in sparsely furnished health stations, located within easy walking distance of peasants' homes. Barefoot doctors also visited workers out in the fields, and prescribed a wide variety of medicines including many made from locally-grown herbs.