A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule
III. Healthcare and Nutrition

E. Health Education

Most Tibetan children receive no health education at all. The children we interviewed generally knew little, if anything, about healthcare or nutritional needs. Several children held superstitions about diseases. One child said, for example, that 'evil spirits' caused the pain that a Tibetan doctor in India later determined to be symptomatic of a thyroid problem. '[T]here's no kind of health awareness program at all in the villages,' Dr. Alo said, based on his experience as a physician in Amdo and Kham. A former Chinese medical aide told us that health education is non-existent, with the possible exception of offerings at a few large community schools. Only one child, a twelve-year-old girl from Lhasa, reported learning about health in school. Chinese teachers, she said, informed students about medicines for headaches and similar ailments.

In the district hospitals, Dr. Norbu related, many staff members are ill-trained and poorly qualified. Consequently, 'they don't really have the knowledge to prescribe the right medicine to the patients.' Lack of health education compounds this problem. Dr. Norbu noted that 'the villagers are so innocent and don't know anything about proper healthcare.' One girl told us, for example, that her brother caught TB because her father had the disease. The family did not know how to prevent it from spreading. Both died for lack of proper treatment. When her father first got sick, she said, the family took him to a Chinese hospital, which misdiagnosed him as having a gastric disorder that required surgery. He died of TB shortly after this improper surgery. When her brother became sick with the same symptoms that her father manifested, the family knew it was TB but could not afford the medications. Given their previous experience with the Chinese hospital, they also did not trust that they would receive proper treatment there.

While we heard no accounts of HIV infection, Kelsang Phuntsok, TGIE Health and Education Project Officer, noted that, from a public health standpoint, AIDS could become a serious problem in Tibet in the near future. It is spreading rapidly in Tibet, in large part because of the increasing numbers of prostitutes in Lhasa and other cities, as well as the rise in drug abuse, including heroine, among unemployed Tibetan youth in the cities.

Health education can be an efficient and inexpensive method of improving health for children and preventing the spread of infectious diseases, even in impoverished regions with fewer resources. Our research did not indicate that the PRC has made efforts to disseminate basic health and sanitation information to inhabitants of rural Tibetan regions.

It is difficult to gauge the overall state of Tibetan children's health. Two broad themes, however, emerged from our research. First, some advances in medical technology and treatment have been achieved in Tibet. It remains unclear, however, to what extent these advances benefit Tibetan children. Reports, including the present one, reveal that modern hospital facilities and equipment in Tibet exist principally, if not exclusively, in its few urban centers, which increasingly serve a population comprised mainly of Chinese settlers. Nevertheless, within China, including the Tibetan areas it presently rules, the PRC has made, as the CRC Committee noted in the past, 'considerable progress . . . in reducing the infant and under-five mortality rates, especially through the extensive efforts focused on sustaining immunization coverage, increasing immunization rates and reducing the incidence of child malnutrition . . . '

At the same time, China's decision to focus its healthcare resources on urban areas that serve principally Chinese settlers - combined with evidence of misuse of state funds, discrimination and often prohibitive healthcare costs - indicates undue neglect of the health and nutritional needs of Tibetan children. Restrictions on the activities of foreign aid organizations also make it difficult for these groups to offer Tibetan children the international cooperation and support that the CRC encourages. As noted, these restrictions also have a detrimental secondary effect. They make it difficult to ascertain fully the health and nutritional issues faced by Tibetan children and thus impede progress towards their resolution. For these reasons, as well as the problems caused by the poverty and harsh terrain that characterizes much of Tibet, Tibetan children's healthcare and nutritional intake appears to be poorer than it could be. Without improvements in the near future, the survival and healthy development of the next generation of Tibetans may be threatened.

On to Section IV - The Effects of Women's Rights Abuses on Children's HEALTH AND EDUCATION -->