The Sunday Mail
LAST year, the Zimbabwe-China Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Center was opened at the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare to provide Zimbabweans with an affordable alternative to medical care during the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the Chinese doctors stationed at the center is Dr Sun Shuang, who was among the first medical experts to attend to patients when Covid-19 broke out in China’s Wuhan province last year. Our reporter Debra Matabvu (DM) spoke with Dr Sun (SS) to share her experiences and how the Center in Parirenyatwa has been helping Zimbabwe in the fight against the pandemic.
DM: Could you please give us some information about yourself?
SS: I was born in 1987 in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in China. I graduated from Hunan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in 2012 and started my career as a health worker and licensed TCM doctor at the time. In 2018, I obtained my second Master’s degree in Italy, at the University of Siena. I specialize in Respiratory TCM and am in charge of the Zimbabwe-China TCM and Acupuncture Centre. I am part of the team of Chinese medical experts sent by the Chinese government to Zimbabwe last May.
DM: Yesou were one of the doctors who were in Wuhan when Covid-19 broke out in China. Tell us about your experience during this period?
SS: I was a member of the first batch of the medical team sent to Wuhan when the Covid-19 broke out. I worked at FangCang Shelter Hospital. The patients at the hospital where I worked were all treated using TCM or TCM integrated with Western medicine. The result of the treatment in my department was very good. No case became serious or critical. There were no deaths, no cases that came back positive, and there were no infections of medical personnel either. The total cure rate was 99.6 percent.
I worked long hours and also did shifts such as collecting samples for the PCR test.
Usually we collected 90-160 samples each time. When we were on duty, we checked the patients one by one, gathering all the results of blood tests, image examinations and also the result of the PCR test. Consultations were given immediately when there was a difficult case. Drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy were all available, even at the same time, when needed. The patients were under 24-hour medical supervision. The working hours were so long that sometimes we couldn’t eat or drink.
At first we also faced a shortage of PPE, but we were dedicated to our work as we were willing to sacrifice a lot to save lives. I also see the dedication and sacrifice of the medical staff in Zimbabwe and our goal is always the same: to help and save our patients from the pandemic.
DM: Can you please explain how TCM processing works?
SS: TCM treatment is one of the strengths of China’s experience in treating Covid-19 cases. It has shown a very good result, in terms of success rate, in different cases all over the country. Many foreign patients also tried it with good effects. For foreign countries, TCM offers another option to deal with certain symptoms such as fever and cough in Covid-19 treatments and other diseases. This is also why we have established a TCM center here and as the Vice President of Zimbabwe (Dr Constantino Chiwenga) said; improving medical service and patient outcomes is our goal. We also hope that we can learn more about traditional Zimbabwean medicine.
DM: What lessons can Zimbabwe learn from China’s containment of the pandemic?
SS: For a pandemic, treatment comes second while prevention comes first. This means controlling the origins of infection, stopping transmission and protecting vulnerable populations. We followed these principles very strictly and positively.
On the other hand, I have seen great efforts from the Zimbabwean government including border control, lockdown policy as well as the highly ranked vaccine purchase program. This is commendable and these measures explain why Zimbabwe is doing better than other African countries.
DM: Zimbabwe currently administers Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines which come from China. How effective are these Chinese vaccines against the Delta variant?
SS: The Delta variant is also new in China. However, this does not change the principle of prevention. According to the evaluation of the effects of vaccination results in local areas in China, based on the Delta variant study in Guangzhou in May, the protective effect of Chinese vaccines for asymptomatic cases was 63, 2% for mild cases, 67.2% for moderate cases and 76.9% for severe cases. With more data collected in other regions and countries as well, these rates may change. Anyway, the conclusion is obvious that the Chinese vaccines have a protective effect against the Delta variant.
There is a need to accelerate vaccination work, while accelerating the development of new vaccines targeting the Delta variant as the next step.
DM: Is it necessary to reinforce the vaccination program with a third dose of vaccines?
SS: As we know, there are three kinds of vaccines in China (VERO cell-virus inactivated vaccine, CHO cell-recombinant subunit vaccine, adenoviral vector vaccine), according to our experience, only CHO cell type needs three assays and two other types including VERO cell like Sinopharm and Sinovac. We do not have enough data to recommend the third strength.
DM: As an expert, what is your advice to Zimbabwe on vaccinating children?
SS: Given the wide spread of the Delta variant, it is inevitable that cases will also increase in children.
This means that plans must also be made to vaccinate children. In China, we have already phased in vaccination for the under-18 population and started with the 14-17 age group, with the other younger groups following in that order.
From Sinovac’s instructions, we can see that it can be used on children over the age of three. The child vaccination method we use in China is the same as that of adults.