Bright Eric Ohene (far left), a Ghanaian PhD candidate at China’s Capital Medical University, takes a selfie with four colleagues at Beijing Anzhen Hospital in Beijing on October 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Bright Eric Ohene)
by Xinhua writer Sudeshna Sarkar
BEIJING, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- If anyone had told Bright Eric Ohene that a major part of his work as a heart surgeon would be picking up cigarette butts in China, the Ghanaian would have thought they were joking. But in the nearly one year that he has been living in Beijing, it has become part of his routine and he no longer thinks of it as work below the dignity of a doctor with a Ph.D.
The 35-year-old quotes his mentor, renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Zhou Yu Jie, who is also CEO of Beijing Anzhen Hospital, where Ohene is interning, to explain the change in his mindset.
"Prof. Zhou told me, (if) you want to do something big, don't go for big things ... do something small in a big way."
That started with picking up the butts people left in the hospital. "The main idea is to see the distribution (of the butts)," Ohene told Xinhua. "Some patients have this habit, they can't stop smoking. So when they come (to us) they hide their smoking. We need to find the distribution of the cigarette butts ... which days of the week it is more ... We have a tally, isolate the areas and implement intervention."
It's the hospital's Initiative Against In-Hospital Cigarette Smoking project. Since one of the risk factors leading to heart diseases is smoking, the hospital is seeking to provide not only a cure but also preventive measures. Hospital admissions and outpatient visits are also treated as an opportunity to increase visitors' awareness of the risk of heart disease if they smoke. Colorful posters tell them about the quit smoking campaign and those who volunteer to join it are directed to the free outpatient clinic run to help smokers kick the habit.
"This is a very good way," Ohene said. "We are not just telling them to stop smoking, we are helping them to gradually stop smoking ... I (feel) it is really good to take an opportunity to do something that is really simple and yet can change many people's lives."
It dovetails with Ohene's personal aspiration: "It's always been my dream to improve myself and hoping that it leads to improvement in the lives of people around me. I am very glad to be in Beijing where I know all the magic happens in China."
INSPIRED BY THE OLYMPICS
It's been a long and circuitous route to Beijing from Accra, where Ohene was a researcher in biomedical science. Since both his parents were doctors, he was also interested in medicine and his research showed him there was a dearth of sophisticated cardiac care in Ghana, especially minimally invasive surgery, where operations are performed using tiny incisions instead of one large cut.
"The sophisticated method would make it easier, for example, to treat babies born with heart problems," he said. "Ghana lacks such facilities and I saw the market for such a service."
While he was pondering which was the best place abroad to study medicine, the year 2008 arrived and the Olympic Games were hosted by China. That was an eye-opener for Ohene.
"I had always been fascinated by Asia and my contact with Asians had been very friendly. The 2008 Olympics ... really changed the whole view of China in my mind," he said. "I knew that if they could put (up) that kind of spectacular show ... that has never been seen in the history of the Olympics, then surely they have other things that we do not know (about). I felt there was something more there. That curiosity brought me here and I have never regretted coming."
He came as a self-funded student in February 2009, choosing to take admission in Shenyang Medical College (SMC) in northeastern China's Liaoning Province. Why Liaoning, a place off the radar for most foreigners coming to China for the first time?
"Because I wanted to go to a place that had not been as explored and written about as Guangzhou or Shanghai, for example," he explained. Also, Liaoning is geographically close to Japan, Russia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and he wanted to see the influence on the local economy and culture.
From SMC he later transferred to Dalian Medical University and after qualifying as a cardiac surgeon, enrolled in the Capital Medical University in Beijing for his doctorate in medicine. Subsequently, he was placed with Beijing Anzhen Hospital for his internship.
Ohene hopes to complete his Ph.D. in two years, when the next stage in his pursuit would start. His long-term goal is carrying the medical knowledge he has gained in China back home and founding his own hospital based on the Chinese model. However, he realizes that he needs more resources for that and so, before he goes back to Ghana, is interested in working in other countries and building up a network of friends.
"One person alone can't achieve a lot of things," he said. "Even China had friends from other countries who helped them establish their healthcare system. I want to make friends with people who are interested in making a difference in Africa. Africa has its own challenges in healthcare delivery, especially economic issues. I want to have a hospital and a good health insurance system so that people can get affordable healthcare."
Ohene sees his own dream as well as the larger African dream reflected in the Chinese dream. "I think the Chinese dream is not different from the dream of the rest of the world, (the dream of) common people in any other part of the world," he said thoughtfully. "That is, improve yourself. And in the process of improving yourself make sure that it translates into improving the lives of other people."
He finds the Chinese dream manifest in the every-day Chinese greeting "ni hao." "The person (greeting) doesn't say I am fine, he says, you are fine," he said.
"It's like a blessing, not just a greeting. This is the Chinese dream, wishing that everyone does well, lives a happy life and gets all the things they need."
To explain how the Chinese dream is an alter image of the African dream, he quotes the famous speech by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president and prime minister who led the country to independence from British colonial rule in 1957: "Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa."
"(It's) the same as the Chinese dream," Ohene said. "We wish that we are good but we are not good until that goodness is spread across the border and many people benefit ... The dream of China could even be changed into the dream of the world."
In the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping to increase linkages between Asia, Europe and Africa, Ohene sees another symbol of the Chinese dream.
"The Chinese dream is about interconnection, making sure that there is a flow," he said. "(It) is making sure that we make way where there seems to be no way and linking other people. The Belt and Road policy ... is all about the Chinese dream ... This dream is a dream we all should have. It should be like the Olympic torch, or the baton of a marathon (passed on from hand to hand)."
In the process of "improving" himself in China, Ohene is also trying to make sure he gives back something.
He noticed the high volume of exchange and collaboration between the outside world and China in healthcare. "We have lots of English-speaking people coming into China and one of the problems is the language," he said.
So Ohene, who is now fluent in Chinese and able to discuss medical problems and diagnosis with patients in Chinese, is organizing professional medical English programs for Chinese staff to improve their communication skills. "They teach me, they welcome me ... (so) this is just a small way to say thank you," he said.
The Chinese dream is not competition, the Chinese dream is cooperation. The dream can be interpreted in several ways.