Liang Nanyu, Deputy Mayor of Shuanghu, a county in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, which is also the highest county in the world, has the distinction of initiating several "firsts" in the past three years.
He made it possible for the county, with an average altitude of 5,000 meters above sea level, to have its first C-section operation that created a medical record. He broke the monopoly in the local economy's pillar industry and upgraded it, ensuring greater income for the impoverished residents. Also, he was the first to get the county's students enroll in free seats in schools in big cities.
The 39-year-old arrived in Shuanghu in July 2016 as part of a Central Government program to assist in the region's development. In 1994, the Central Government set a new policy to rally greater support for Tibet. Certain provinces were given responsibilities to help specific cities or counties in the autonomous region. The program is known as partnership assistance. And eight years later, 17 leading state-owned enterprises (SOEs) joined the program. The China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) was one of them and Liang, one of its officials, was subsequently assigned to Shuanghu.
Shuanghu is located at the heart of the Changtang National Nature Reserve on the Tibetan Plateau, 700 km northwest of Lhasa, capital city of the autonomous region. It is China's youngest county, established in 2013. Though vast, it is scarcely populated.
The CNPC has donated 390 million yuan ($56.42 million) for 113 projects in Shuanghu, most of them to improve infrastructure. But after Liang took office in Shuanghu, he advised the local government and the CNPC to make some changes to the partnership assistance projects in Shuanghu, focusing more on healthcare services, education and income-generating industries.
Based on his suggestions, assistance funds were more used in projects related to improving people's lives and creating jobs.
Liang Nanyu (left), Deputy Mayor of Shuanghu, gives free traditional Chinese medicine to local residents on January 3. The medicine was provided by the Beijing Yuruomu Charity Foundation (COURTESY PHOTO)
World's highest C-section (Click here to watch the video)
Pasang Norbu, 21 months old, has two names. His Tibetan name, Pasang Norbu, means sweetheart of the Pasang family. The Han-style name Huo Dangsheng denotes the baby born by Shuanghu's first C-section operation conducted by a doctor surnamed Huo.
"The birth of this child set a record for C-section done at the highest altitude in medical history—4,962 meters," Liang said.
With its inhospitable terrain and rarified air, Shuanghu is also known as the "dead zone." The average life expectancy of its residents is 58 years, 10 years less than the regional average. "Locals suffer from widespread high-altitude illnesses and newborn deaths," Liang said.
Before Liang's arrival, there were no surgeons and no functional surgical equipment in the local hospital. If a woman went into difficult labor, she had to be taken to Nagqu, a bigger city 550 km away and nearly seven hours' journey due to the bumpy road.
From 2009, a medical team sent by the CNPC began visiting the county once a year to provide free medicine and treatment. But they addressed just short-term ailments, not major diseases. So Liang recommended that surgery be introduced.
The first operation done in the county was a C-section. "Many thought it was an impossible mission," Liang said. The preparation took 10 months. A team from the People's Hospital of Shuanghu County was sent to the CNPC Central Hospital in Hebei Province to receive training.
Some 1.13 million yuan ($162,749) from the CNPC's assistance fund was earmarked to buy equipment for the operation such as respirators.
August 23, 2017, was a landmark day for both Shuanghu and Liang. At 19:30, an expectant mother was sent to the operation room.
Liang, together with the patient's family, waited outside. "I felt more anxious than when my own baby was born eight years ago," he said.
At 20:33, a newborn's cries broke out and when the baby was carried out of the room, all those waiting outside smiled in relief.
Today, with the CNPC's help, 28 doctors from Shuanghu have been trained to do appendicitis operations. Teaming up with a medical team from CNPC, doctors in Shuanghu have performed a dozen of operations in the past three years.
Changdren, head of the People's Hospital of Shuanghu County, said the county hospital now has more qualified staff and advanced machines, offering better service to locals.
In the coming years, the aim is to ensure that common diseases can be treated in a timely manner in Shuanghu. As Liang said, "If we cannot ensure people's health, we cannot achieve moderate prosperity in all respects."
A research team from Ocean University of China takes a group photo with Liang Nanyu (sixth left), Deputy Mayor of Shuanghu County in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, after collecting brine shrimp egg samples from Kyêbxang Co Lake on June 21, 2018 (COURTESY PHOTO)
A game changer
Assistance projects, especially to develop new industries, have become a major way to fight poverty in Tibet. From 2013 to 2017, over 1,700 assistance projects worth 14.35 billion yuan ($2.08 billion) had been launched, according to a white paper on democratic reform in Tibet released by China's State Council Information Office in March.
Shuanghu is a poverty-stricken county with 21.9 percent of the population living under the poverty line. "Our target is to bring all of them out of poverty this year," Liang said.
While looking for industries that could provide a sustainable way out of poverty, he chanced upon the local brine shrimp egg industry. Some saltwater lakes in Shuanghu are home to the brine shrimp whose eggs are perfect for aquaculture. Since the 1990s, selling raw brine shrimp eggs has been the main source of Shuanghu's revenue and local residents' income. "It's the purse of Shuanghu," Liang said.
He planned to upgrade the industry. After a rigorous third-party scientific study and dozens of market surveys, he mapped out a three-tier trajectory for the industry's growth: first, to build a factory to process the eggs, which would fetch more profit; second, to produce a specialty food with the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) present in the eggs, a fatty acid that can lower the risk of heart diseases and help regulate blood fat and sugar as well as prevent insomnia; finally, to develop a drug with the EPA.
Before 2015, most of Shuanghu's brine shrimp eggs were snapped up at a very low price by one businessman from a neighboring province. To end the monopoly, Liang organized two public tenders in 2017 and 2018, but both failed, allegedly due to the trader's interference.
But Liang didn't give up. He continued to prepare for the third public tender in January 2019. At that time, the volume of imported brine shrimp eggs in China was large, slashing the price of the processed product in half. Liang was prepared for the worst: If the tender failed again, they would outsource the raw materials to make the finished product.
Before the bidding, he hit upon the idea of circulating the tender notice by e-mail. In an accompanying letter, he said: "Catching brine shrimp eggs means fishermen have to camp by the lake in below zero-degree Celsius temperature for a month. It is not easy money. Selling the eggs is a key way to pull Shuanghu out of poverty. It's our duty to fetch a good price for local residents…I hope you will seize the opportunity and work with us to create a win-win future based on mutual trust."
And his efforts paid off. Ten bidders attended the public bidding. "We recorded a price of 70,000 yuan ($10,126) per ton, the highest in the history of Shuanghu," Liang said.
Next, he advised the CNPC to donate 13.8 million yuan ($2.06 million) to build a processing factory in Nagqu City, which is expected to be ready in August. Then the eggs will be processed and bring more profits than the raw material. Every Shuanghu resident involved in the business is expected to earn an extra average income of 3,990 yuan ($594) per year.
A specialty food has been developed from the eggs by Ocean University of China and Yantai University in east China's Shandong Province and is expected to be available in the market soon.
In addition, Shuanghu County Government plans to seek partnerships with big domestic pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug with the EPA found in the eggs.
"Processing the eggs will create a reliable and long-term route out of poverty," Liang said.
The first batch of Tibetan children from Shuanghu start their studies in Lhasa on August 31, 2017, with free tuition and accommodations provided (COURTESY PHOTO)
Dawn of education (Click here to watch the video)
Although children in the autonomous region enjoy a 15-year free education, while most places in the country implement a nine-year compulsory education, the high school enrollment rate in Shuanghu was less than 10 percent since most parents, herdsmen by profession, didn't think education could ensure a promising future for their children.
Twenty-one provinces and cities outside Tibet offer free classes for meritorious Tibetan students. However, from 2013 to 2017, no student from Shuanghu qualified for the free classes.
Then in 2017 and 2018, because of Liang's efforts 25 students were sent to study in Lhasa and Beijing for free. When the first batch of students was selected in 2017, no parents came to witness the selection. Nobody cared whose child would be selected since studying in Lhasa wasn't considered a good enough opportunity.
Last year, three students passed the tests to get into the free Tibetan classes in other provinces thanks to a new incentive mechanism. And it created a strong impact in Shuanghu.
When the local government selected two students to study in Lhasa in 2018, 12 parents came to monitor the selection. "It was beyond my expectations. From showing little interest in education to monitoring the selection procedure, the local parents showed a pleasant change," Liang said.
Due to the high altitude and the ensuing difficulties, officials and professionals from supporting provinces, government departments and SOEs are deployed in Tibet for three years. During their tenure, more than 30 percent of them suffer from high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia—abnormally high fat levels in the blood, and hyperuricemia—abnormally high levels of uric acid in the blood, according to Shao Zhengyi, a Beijing doctor who worked at the People's Hospital of Lhasa in 2012. Insomnia and headaches resulting from the lack of oxygen in the air are other common problems.
Even after almost three years' acclimatization in Shuanghu, Liang still gets insomnia and headaches.
But though his tenure is to end in July, Liang has decided to ask for another three years' extension. "It's a critical moment in our fight against poverty. I will stay on to develop the local industry and accomplish my tasks," he said.
Partnership Assistance Program
Assistance to Tibet Autonomous Region from some provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, as well as large and medium-sized enterprises began in the 1960s.
Since the start of reform and opening up in 1978, assistance from developed provinces and cities has increased.
In 1994, the Third National Symposium on Work in Tibet set down the principle of rallying national support for Tibet and specified the assistance pattern of allocating responsibilities to certain provinces and rotating them in regular intervals, giving more impetus to Tibet's development.
To date, a total of 18,000 officials and professionals from supporting provinces have been involved in the assistance campaign. Since 2015, assistance by educational and medical personnel from across the country has contributed to social development in Tibet. More than 10,000 projects are receiving support, representing a total investment of over 40 billion yuan ($5.8 billion).
With deeper reform and opening up, the economic and cultural ties between people in Tibet and those in the rest of the country have become closer, with an increasing number of mixed communities and a closer emotional bond.
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Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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