The world marveled at its “barefoot doctors“.
Who were these people?
Many decades ago, China had a largely agricultural society (like most countries of the time). Farmers were an important part of the economy, since agriculture was the main industry.
However, they often lived in far-flung villages, with little or no access to even basic health care.
It was under these circumstances that the concept of “barefoot doctors” was developed.
Essentially, farmers with some education, who were interested in helping other villagers, were chosen to undergo training in basic health care. They returned to their own villages after receiving training on how to manage common ailments at the village itself. On an average day, they would work in the fields as their peers. However, should the need arise, they would tend to the sick, too. Every once in a while, they would go for refresher courses.
Often, more than one farmer from a village would undergo training. This not only helped split the workload, but also helped ensure that the quality of care did not suffer. Due to this scheme, the health condition of the farming communities improved considerably.
These individuals came to be known as “barefoot doctors”. In the strict sense of the word, they were not qualified physicians. However, their example taught physicians the world over, the difference primary health care could make to the health of a community. They showed the rest of the world that primary health care was a practical solution to many of the current day (health related) concerns.
These unsung heroes influenced the very concept of primary health care, as espoused at the Alma-Ata conference. Sadly, though, they have largely been relegated to history books.
However, we must cherish them and their contribution, for they first showed us the way when we were all quite lost.