The struggle against epidemics in revolutionary China

April 8, 2020

The struggle against Schistosomiasis

There are currently many theories about the origin of the Corona-Virus. Quite a few of them blame the “communist dictatorship” for this. The origin of the corona virus is not yet completely clear. However, we still want to deal with the topic of socialist disease control and show that it is not socialism that allows diseases to thrive. A good example is the disease Schistosomiasis. The Chinese people would have been “happy too early” when the leader of the Chinese Revolution, Mao Zedong, wrote his poem "Farewell epidemic god", claimed a study written in New York called "The return of the epidemic god". Because the once almost eradicated disease is increasing again today.



Pictures: Schistosomiasis deaths in 2012 (the dark Countries had up to 40 million deaths)
and a boy with Schistosomiasis

What is Schistosomiasis? Schistosomiasis is a terrible infectious disease. With 238 million infected (2010, 85% of them in Africa!) and 200.000 deaths per year, the disease is not a minor matter, but probably the most widespread parasitic infectious disease (comparison: Malaria had 207 million cases in 2013). Since the disease does not spread explosively, and because of the living and climate conditions, especially in oppressed countries, it is chronically underfunded and belongs to the "neglected diseases". The disease agent of Schistosomiasis is a worm. A male and a female are attached to each other, which is why it is also called the "couple gel". The pathogen affects the liver and intestines (and often other organs) and causes severe inflammations. The disease can lead to the suspension of the female cycle, male infertility and severe disabilities. It is one of the deadliest tropical diseases. After the worm releases a lot of eggs into the bloodstream, they pass into the intestine. With the excrement they get into the water. Schistosomiasis relies on a special type of water snail called Oncomelania, in which the eggs grow into larvae, which then infect humans again. So the cycle begins anew.



Picture: The pathogen

In 1989, 1.52 million people were affected in China. This number is increasing, but it is comparatively small, as it was 12 million before 1949. Whole areas were depopulated by the plague. The peasants fell ill because of the primitive living conditions, the sufferers had to endure their suffering because treatment was so expensive that only the rich feudal lords could pay for it. China was a semi-colony and colony under imperialism, which was the basis of rural poverty.
The massive decline in the number of sick people is due to the historically unique fight against the disease in revolutionary China, which began with the liberation in 1949. This struggle was not limited to therapy. The first priority was prevention of the disease. The goal was to free the people from this terrible plague.



Pictures: Spread of the disease in China today, and the population of "Ren Tun", Ching Pu district, shortly after the liberation. Almost all inhabitants suffered from Schistosomiasis. And below: This photo was taken in the same place in Ren Tun - after the Schistosomiasis was practically completely eradicated.

The British doctor Joshua S. Horn wrote in 1966 in his report "Doctor in China" about the struggle against the disease. Joshua Horn studied medicine in England and emigrated to China in 1945 to use his medical knowledge in the service of the people, in the service of the Chinese Revolution. If you want to interrupt the infection cycle, he writes, there are different ways. “The hardest, if most promising, is to exterminate the snails as an intermediate host. If it is successful, Schistosomiasis would never recur. " It quickly turned out that this task will not be mastered based on some experts from Shanghai. This task was "so enormous that it could not have succeeded without the leadership of the party, without the total and most active support from millions of people, and without a correct overall strategy."


Picture: Joshua Horn

This strategy was developed from a medical point of view, based on the teachings of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Revolution and the Proletarian World Revolution. One of the most important lessons that have been applied has been the mass line. Because the broad masses of the people have an infinite creative power.
“We have to go into the masses, learn from the masses, generalize their experiences to better, systematized insights and methods, then transmit them back to the masses (propagate them), call on the masses to act according to these insights and methods, and to solve the problems of the masses so that the masses can achieve liberation and happiness."

The task could never have been accomplished without the wisdom and strength of the millions of rural people. With a series of lectures, film events, posters and radio programs, the farmers and agricultural workers were made aware of the danger of snails and they showed a tremendous initiative. Twice a year, the local population, supported by volunteers from the cities, temporarily drained all infected watercourses (thousands of kilometers!) and removed the contaminated layers. Without the experience of the farmers who knew these channels like the back of their hand, this would never have been possible. In between, anti-snail patrols searched the banks. Joshua Horn reports of a medical student who developed a very simple faeces test that was used to test samples from 1.3 million farmers in the Shanghai area in 1965! "It is only possible to record sick people on such an enormous scale if simple, improvised methods are used and the population is mobilized to carry them out themselves and not to wait for the help of outside experts."


Joshua Horn writes that in his area alone the length of the snail-infected river bank was reduced from 4,300 km to 65 km by 1966, and 245,000 patients were treated. The report of a woman is reproduced, which tells:
"I got married when I was twenty-four, and when my stomach grew fat I thought I was pregnant. But that was the epidemic god who had run into my stomach. After the liberation I got some injections which made me feel very miserable. But my illness was slowly getting better. When I was forty-four my stomach started to get fat again. This time I was really pregnant. I had a lovely little daughter, and on her first birthday we took a picture of her and sent it to Chairman Mao. He wrote me back a nice letter. "


Picture: Snail patrols

The success of fighting Schistosomiasis was not simply the result of a “clever plan”. They were victories of a new system over an old one, with a health system serving the people. Those who needed it medicaly were treated, not just those who were rich enough. Imperialism is based on the exploitation of the absolute majority of the world's population by a small minority. They only have a certain interest in fighting epidemics when large numbers of workers are threatened with destruction. For the imperialists, however, an increasing number of workers are only "cheap goods" or "overflow", especially in the oppressed countries, which is why diseases such as Schistosomiasis are "neglected". The immense effort to fight epidemics in China is not possible within the framework of imperialism, where the first interest is always to squeeze more out of the workforce than the rivals. The wealth of a few rose on the basis of the poverty of the majority, on the basis of conditions that produce diseases. Prevention went hand in hand with raising the standard of living of the population and expropriating those who lived due to exploitation of others. For this it is essential that the question is not only tackled medically, but is turned into a political mass campaign. The masses have to struggle for their own victories.

The fact that the number of cases is increasing again is the product of today's China, in which capital rules again. Terrible poverty and backward conditions have returned to the countryside in many places (which China and the United States have in common). But the success of socialist construction could not be completely taken away from the people who fought for it.


 Picture: The poem of Mao Zedong "Farewell epidemic god"




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