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ICRC and Chinese Red Cross: joint centre fits limbs for mine victims

19-03-2004 Feature

Some 200,000 landmines are thought to be strewn along China’s border with Vietnam, relics of a conflict dating back 25 years. The ICRC and the Chinese Red Cross are cooperating to help the victims of the many accidents that occur. Roland Sidler reports:

On 2 December 2003 the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of China inaugurated a new limb-fitting centre in Kunming, the capital of Yunan province. Located on the fifth floor of a retirement home run by the local Red Cross branch, the centre is equipped with brand-new, high-performance machines and all the tools needed to manufacture artificial limbs.

 

  Pan De Peng in hospital, December 2003© ICRC Roland Sidler/ref:   cn-e-00008 
 

A cooperation agreement, the first of its kind between the ICRC and China, provides for a five-year programme under which the ICRC will train local staff, who will eventually be able to run the centre on their own.

Although it lasted only a few months, the 1979 border conflict between China and Vietnam caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in southern Yunan. Relations between the two countries remained tense until 1988, and most of these people returned to their villages only about ten years ago.

 Six thousand casualties  

Tobacco is one of the main crops grown in this region of steep, terraced hills, where everything must be done by hand, with the help of mules and buffaloes. An estimated 200,000 mines lie scattered around the countryside and over 6,000 civilians have already lost limbs in mine accidents.

For lack of transport to the nearest limb-fitting centre, or simply for lack of money, many of them have been unable to acquire artificial limbs or to replace the devices they have with ones that are sturdy enough to withstand the daily grind of working the land.

Only a few days ago, Pan De Peng, a 56-year-old farmer, lost his lower right leg. He was cutting grass with a neighbour; each of them had strayed off in search of better hay when Pan stepped on a mine. He had already lost a lot of blood by the time his neighbour found him after a long search.

 

    Chen Zheng Fang at his home with the ICRC's orthopaedic technician© ICRC Roland Sidler/ref:   cn-e-00007 
 

Pan was quickly taken to the hospital in Malipu, more than an hour's drive away. As soon as his wound heals, he can go to the ICRC limb-fitting centre, where he will be fed and housed until he is able to move about well enough with his new polypropylene leg to start working in the fields again.

 Mine victim twice over  

Chen Zheng Fang, another farmer, lives in the tiny village of Bali He, not far from Pan's home. Aged 46, he spends most of the day sitting on a stool. In 1992 he was injured in a mine accident that cost him an eye.

Last May he survived a new and even more serious accident in which he lost a leg. As he cannot afford an artificial limb, his wife and three young children must toil away in the fields. Chen was overjoyed to learn that a limb--fitting centre had opened in Kunming; he realised straightaway that his life was about to change…