Ancient cures for a new nation
Lukudu said it is still difficult for him to raise his right arm as high as he would like, but he is feeling better after a couple of sessions.
However, it is not easy to disseminate TCM knowledge to South Sudanese patients, Ding said.
Although South Sudan is rich in traditional medicinal plants, conventional biomedical treatment still dominates at hospitals and clinics, leaving limited space for alternative treatments.
For many, TCM or acupuncture is something unheard of or associated with pain. Even for those who have attended a medical school, acupuncture is not considered a primary medical approach by physicians.
Onge recalled his days at Makerere University Medical School in Kampala, when Chinese acupuncture was briefly mentioned by a Swedish lecturer in class.
Onge was trained as an occupational therapist with six years’ professional experience in physiotherapy. But after having witnessed with his own eyes the improvement of patients treated by Ding, Onge said he is convinced of the effectiveness of acupuncture, especially its pain-relieving effects.
Acupuncture and moxibustion are also cost-effective and resource-friendly, Onge said.
Like all the governmental organizations and businesses affected by South Sudan’s power shortages, Juba Teaching Hospital experiences repeated power outrages day and night, making it barely possible to use electronic physiotherapy equipment like infrared rays. In these cases, moxibustion can effectively serve as a source of heat.
“This is a way of thinking,” Onge said.
In March, Onge started to observe and assist in Ding’s clinical practice. Under the system of apprenticeship in traditional critical Chinese medicine, Ding became Onge’s shifu (teacher) and imparted knowledge and skills.
Later, a couple of interns from St. Mary’s Medical School also joined in. Under Ding, they studied the basic theory behind acupuncture and moxibustion, such as jingluo (channels and collaterals) and yinyang (positive energy and negative energy).
They also learned how to apply needles to specific sites where qi (vital energy) and blood are transported to the body’s surface.
“It resembles running water. If you stimulate the nerves, qi and blood will travel smoothly in the channel systems of the body, reaching a state where yin is balanced and yang is firm, and a coordinated spirit is guaranteed,” Ding said.
The efforts have paid off. Onge has successfully treated a patient with severe back pain by integrating muscle exercise with Chinese acupuncture. The pain had disappeared by the time the patient completed nine sessions.
Still, more work and time is needed before acupuncture is widely accepted by South Sudanese patients.
Su Guiping, head of the Chinese medical team, said he hopes to secure an independent treatment room on the premises of Juba Teaching Hospital so more needy patients can have access to acupuncture and moxibustion.
Ding also notes that physical treatment also involves mental care. Ding said he observes Hippocrates’ oath “to cure sometimes, to treat often and to comfort always” as part of his medical ethics.
“South Sudan has been ravaged by civil wars for too long. You need to go beyond diseases and treat the patients with dignity, care and respect. This is an invaluable lesson of traditional Chinese medicine.”