100 Afghan children receive treatment for heart defects in Xinjiang

Aid from the Red Cross Society of China has helped a total of 100 Afghan children gradually recover and relieve them of medical burdens.

A hundred Afghan children with congenital heart defects have received medical treatment in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in four batches since September last year as part of the Red Cross Society of China's foreign humanitarian mission. 

On Wednesday, 18 young Afghans from the last batch, who had been hospitalized at the First Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University in Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, since late October, were discharged and boarded a plane bound for Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. 

The hospital will continue to care for three other children who are recovering from surgery. 

"Aid from the Red Cross Society of China has helped a total of 100 Afghan children gradually recover and relieve them of medical burdens. This is the best gift to Afghans," Faizekhuda Faizani, director of relationship management at the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said at a gathering held by the RCSC in Urumqi on Tuesday, ahead of the children's departure.

Wang Rupeng, vice-president of the RCSC, said the mission, funded by its Silk Road Fraternity Fund, aims at strengthening people-to-people ties between China and Afghanistan, a country involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

"We will work harder and mobilize our humanitarian resources to advance the development of humanitarian aid, fraternity and public health under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative," he said. 

The mission, Wang said, began in June last year, when the RCSC learned that a shortage of medical infrastructure, coupled with domestic unrest, had put the safety and health of Afghan civilians, especially toddlers and children, at risk. 

"More than 7,000 Afghan children in need of treatment for congenital heart defects were registered with the Afghan Red Crescent Society," he said. 

Two months later, in August, an RCSC foreign aid team was sent to Kabul to examine child patients. During the visit, the RCSC signed a collaboration memo with its Afghanistan counterpart, promising to treat 100 local children born with such conditions. The first batch of 21 patients was soon transferred to the hospital in Xinjiang for treatment. 

The following three batches arrived in Xinjiang in April, July and October, respectively. As of Wednesday, all but the three Afghans in recovery have returned to their native country. 

Ma Songfeng, who heads the pediatric surgery and pediatric cardiology departments at the hospital, said different languages and dietary habits posed challenges at the beginning.

"We were concerned about their recovery situation because they ate very little," he said. "So nutrition experts at the hospital designed a variety of kid's meals based on Afghan eating habits."

The children's appetites recovered thanks to the tailored meals. 

Nazifullah Rahmani, an Afghan mother who lost her third daughter to heart disease in 2010, is grateful that her second daughter, who was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in 2014, benefited from the medical project in Xinjiang. 

"After the surgery, I called my family in Afghanistan, saying that the treatment went well, and they burst into tears of joy," she said. "We hope to reciprocate the RCSC's kindness because the project has endowed my kid with the second chance to live. I also hope the RCSC will help more children in Afghanistan, where a great number still suffer from heart disease." 

The RCSC has provided humanitarian aid in more than 20 countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative since the Silk Road Fraternity Fund was set up in February last year.