Mystery behind hookworms Chapter 2

1st encounter

After a 2-hour flight we reached Haikou city where The Provincial Public Health Department settled. At the moment we stepped into the headquarter none of us 8 group members had any idea of what was going to happen next, in that except the several names in the reports we read we knew nothing else, including the official attitude, the specific locations of epidemic areas and the detailed situations there. We didn’t know where we should go, when we might be going, what else we might need——we have to first act then react.

Fortunately, the governor surnamed Hong was quite a kind person smiling friendly to us and showed no disfavor. Discreetly checking our introduction letter, he nodded and instantly gave a call to the chief of health department. Hearing our plan, Wen Feng, the chief, ardently told the current situation concerned hookworm in a frank manner.

Government in action

In 1986, a functionary named Lin Shaoxiong has conducted a survey that covered the whole province, which demonstrated 94.7% of residents had been infected by kinds of parasites, an amazing result topped the nation. But not until 2005 had parasite ever been a focus because paludism, a deadly disease, was the main deal. However, in 2005, a reporter wrote an article featuring hookworm’s lurking damage and the report got attention from senior officials who later ordered the local government to solve the problem. That’s how a new project aimed at supervising and controlling hookworm started in 2005. The project leader was exactly Lin Shaoxiong who was then a provincial officer. For his strong field experience, Lin led the project and set 5 experimental spots, the east, south, north, west, and middle, scattered all over the Hainan island.

Lin Shaoxiong, who was the most qualified person to clear all the mystery, was now staying in the middle spot, a small town called Mao Yang which is hidden in hinterland encircled by mountains and tropical jungles.

Wen’s narration stopped here, curiously gazing at us. The 8 of us had the same idea across our mind. We had found our destination tonight.

To be continued……

Mystery behind hookworms Chapter 1

A Risk, An Investigation

What’s the reality hidden behind the sensational story featured on newspaper? Which one should we believe, the national authority or World Health Organization? No matter what they write and say, as we have decided to find the truth, we can just rely on our own senses and first-hand data collected from the frontline to determine. That’s how the 7-day field research came into being, the base of the whole Eradicate Hookworm Action (EHA).

What heard from foreign media

Hookworm infection is intimately related to poverty. Hookworm is an intestinal parasite whose larvae live in the soil, and pass directly through the skin. Simply walking barefoot on contaminated soil can get infected. Once the larvae get in, they migrate to the intestines, where they sucked their victims’ blood. The results are anemia and malnutrition that “stunt physical development and affects cognitive and intellectual development”, according to Peter Hotez at George Washington University. Because the worms lay eggs that come out in the human feces, they can impel a vicious cycle in areas where feces are disposed randomly on soil. Unfortunately, China is the case.

A survey by WHO indicated 78 million rural dwellers in China are suffering from hookworm. The disease “dramatically” affected farmers’ health condition and local economy. It’s a warm bed of poverty.

However, the cure is relatively simple since a tablet called praziquantel costs only $0.07 as a treatment. But the next step is complicated. Farmers usually feel only slight symptoms after infection as the chronic consumption is uneasy to notice, and the government would never heed the disease when its agenda is filled by economic matters. The immature NGOs in China can’t help, either. That’s where the problem lies.


Suffering and poverty as forgotten parasite sucks blood of China's farmers

Who to believe?

But the domestic version is different. An official of sanitation department in Hainan Province, where the disease is rampant accordingly, denied the hookworm has ever been a problem. The situation of the ignorance of hookworm was covered by AFP (Beijing) as well by New Jing Daily, a Beijing-based newspaper. The two reports were present individually on March and May, 2005. Baesd on the content, we reckoned the domestic journalist was inspired by the AFP to cover the incident.

After discussion, our EHA group listed several disputable points in the both reports, which roughly keep the same points and facts . Under vaccine rule, children have to take inoculation in local clinics at certain age. Also, the tablets mentioned for curing are far from rare, and the average earning of Hainan residents (about $1000/year) can indeed afford them. Is the local government really so ignorant that it is not even able to guarantee the basic health condition?

Marching to Hainan

Has anyone covered up the fact? Has anyone exaggerated? All these could be illustrated only after an investigation in person. But in China, interfering in such things would certainly receive no approval but a cold refusal, due to the control-all authority that innately disputes “meddling in”. Therefore, to reduce the pressure we might meet——after all, we are just kids——we asked the school Communist League for help and got an introduction letter so that we may conduct the research by the name of “Social Practice”. On 28th, Nov, the 8-person team set off.