Across China: Patients with "big bone disease" better taken care of in western China
CHENGDU, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- When a Xinhua reporter first met Thuta in August 2004, the 35-year-old man's legs were severely atrophied, with a pair of simple crutches by his side.
Thuta lives in a village in Zamtang County, Sichuan Province. Located on the southeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with an average altitude of more than 3,200 meters, the county used to be an area hardest hit by Kashin-Beck disease (KBD), also known as "big bone disease," in western China.
Eighteen years have since passed. The same reporter this month came across the Tibetan man, now 53, in a nursing home in Zamtang, and was delighted to see that he enjoyed a happy retired life with an electrically powered wheelchair.
The bone and joint disorder once caused him trouble walking freely and pit him into deep poverty.
Looking at the photos taken of Thuta 18 years ago, his eyes lit up, and he immediately recalled the scene of that year.
"My life has changed so tremendously," as he held up his thumb.
The disfiguring disease, with clinical manifestations such as joint pain and muscle atrophy, can lead to dyskinesia and even disability. It was once prevalent in some of China's underdeveloped regions.
In the nursing home, there are 33 elderly residents with the disease, just like Thuta. A day's three meals are prepared and delivered to their rooms by the staff. Doctors from medical institutions at the provincial, prefecture, and county levels regularly come to conduct free check-ups and dispense free drugs.
The pathogenesis of this endemic disease remains confounding, but it is widely believed to be related to geographical conditions, diet, and drinking water.
According to Wang Jia, the county head, Zamtang had 10,661 KBD patients during a 2008 census, and the county only had a population of less than 40,000 at the time.
That year, the central government launched a pilot program for poverty alleviation and comprehensive prevention and treatment of KBD in Aba prefecture, which administers Zamtang.
Starting from 2008, 334 million yuan (about 47 million U.S. dollars) of special funds was allocated every year for five consecutive years to support the program.
With the funds, Zamtang took a package of measures to uproot the disease, including relocation of residents, improvement to water and grain quality, and enhanced health management.
"No new KBD cases have been detected in the county for 10 years," said Chen Yong, deputy head of the county health bureau.
Chen said the county currently has 7,869 KBD patients, including 309 severe ones being taken care of in nursing homes. Most mild patients have effectively controlled their illness through the improvement of living environment and regular treatment.
"Not only has the big bone disease been brought under control, but the village has also changed dramatically over the years," said Qumochok, former head of a relocated village.
He told reporters that the villagers have been able to live in spacious homes alongside nice and wide roads after the 2019 relocation. What makes Qumochok most proud is the opening of the first rural kindergarten in Zamtang.
There are 32 children in the kindergarten who will go to the boarding primary school in the county after graduation.
Wang said that KBD often occurs between the ages of 5 and 15, and is mainly characterized by attacks on children's growing articular cartilage. Therefore, the local government has arranged for all school-age children to study in boarding schools in areas with no KBD cases, so as to protect them and prevent new cases.
At Zamtang county boarding primary school, some dozens of kilometers away from Qumochok's village, children were seen playing and dancing on the playground. Unlike their parents and grandparents, the big bone disease is no longer a childhood nightmare for them.