South Africa

Young SA doctor on the front line against coronavirus in China

Pretoria – For South African doctor Brett Lyndall Singh, China has become a treasured second home, and the bond developed with the Asian country will not allow him to pack his bags at a time when the nation is heavily besieged by the deadly novel coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 1600 people.  

Singh said his conscience, and his oath as a medical doctor, could not allow him to leave the city of Wenzhou when it needed him most. 

“We work from 7am to 6pm. We also have night shift duties. We usually see around 50 paediatric patients a day, but during these times, we have implemented a triage system to treat patients. 

"I am designated to my district, and see most cases that are not necessary to go to the hospital, so that we do not send patients near the isolation zones. Most cities have implemented strict quarantines and people are encouraged to stay at home and not travel,” said 26-year-old Singh – known as Xin Chengle in Chinese - in responses emailed to African News Agency (ANA).

“I also work by doing online medical consultation in the night via WeChat, as well as to help volunteer on the front line. Severe cases are sent to isolation wards and the infectious diseases doctors are the ones heading the management of these patients. I work either at the hospital, the clinic, on the front lines to measure temperatures and basic physical checkup, as well as do research to help find a cure [for COVID-19].”

Singh is one of the many medical professionals at the front of the fight against the epidemic in the port and industrial Wenzhou city, in China’s Zhejiang province, but is one of the few foreign doctors in China to have stayed on. Most people were encouraged to leave the country if they had the means.

The Wenzhou Overseas Publicity Office describes the city as “a famous mid-tier city, boasting the largest overseas Chinese population of 680 000 which is living and doing business in more than 131 countries and regions around the world".

South Africa is also one of the countries where Wenzhou expatriates are concentrated. Wenzhou has a total population of almost 10 million people.

The flow of foreigners nesting in Wenzhou is also considerable. There are more than 5000 foreign students studying and living in the “international city”. Around 170 000 foreign tourists visit the city annually for business and leisure.

According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, about 20 000 Wenzhou people returned home from Wuhan city, the worst-affected area in the epidemic, fleeing the deadly epidemic.

Singh arrived in China in 2011, and at 17 he graduated in the local language before starting medical school. 

Through demonstrated dedication, he received the Zhejiang provincial scholarships throughout his years of study. To maintain his roots, he became a student representative of the South African consulate general in Shanghai. 

He is also a global ambassador for Brand South Africa, representing numerous South Africans in China.

Professor Cai Xiaohong, in the respiratory department of the Yuying Children's Hospital affiliated with the Wenzhou Medical University, was impressed with Singh's results as an intern and recruited the South African into her team, to continue work in the field of paediatrics.

“I was offered a full scholarship to study and do my Master’s Degree, in which I will be graduating in three months’ time. Under [Xiaohong's] leadership I have participated in many research papers, and published an original SCI [Science Citation Index] paper through Elsevier [a Dutch publishing and analytics company specialising in scientific, technical, and medical content],” said Singh. 

Among other life-saving encounters with patients during the current outbreak, Singh said his heart was warmed by the recovery of a three-year-old, who was under the care and supervision of his team.

“We recently treated a baby with similar symptoms to the coronavirus … just three-years-old.  We treated her and she is now healed. We received much praise from the family. And we have also treated and discharged more than 30 patients from our hospital with similar symptoms,” said Brett.

The medical practitioner hopes to return to South Africa after graduation, where he has been highly commended by China's ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian. 

Singh says he plans to play a positive role in the relations between South Africa and China. 

Among other efforts, Singh has launched a fund-raising campaign to help his beloved Wenzhou city. The donations will be used to purchase medical masks and other medical materials. The material will be donated to Wenzhou Medical University for further distribution to the hospitals in most need.

African News Agency (ANA)