This article is part of our 55th Anniversary blog series. To learn more, visit our 55th Anniversary page.
Building bridges across the Pacific
In 1995, Dr. Elaine Jong, Chair of IAMAT’s International Medical Board and Assunta Uffer-Marcolongo, President were invited to attend the first Chinese Travel Medicine Conference in Shanghai. This conference was organized by Professor Gu Jin Xiang, a Chinese physician who foresaw the need for establishing travel medicine clinics in China, not only for visitors but also for Chinese travellers going overseas in ever larger numbers. Elaine and Assunta were invited to give lectures on travel vaccines used in Western countries, preparation of travellers for their journeys and discussions of the spread of infectious diseases through travel.
In the 1990s, clinics operated by CITHA (the Chinese government agency responsible for vaccination clinics) administered only the Yellow Fever vaccine to travellers but did not provide travel health advice, other travel vaccinations, a personalized consultation, or post-travel care. This was a very different approach from the one used by travel medicine specialists in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Supporting travel medicine in China
Providing training opportunities for health practitioners in travel medicine has always been a part of IAMAT’s mandate. Assunta proposed that CITHA use IAMAT’s publications to train practitioners and stay up to date on travel-related illnesses. Assunta also suggested that doctors visit Dr. Jong’s travel clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle to see travel medicine in practice. Thanks to generous donations from our members, we were able to implement our scholarship program. Dr. Zhang Min was the first Chinese scholar to train at the University of Washington’s Hall Health Center Travel Clinic.
In addition to working with Chinese doctors and nurses to build a strong base for travel medicine in China, we learned several lessons which helped us continue to improve the scholarship program. Communication and international cooperation were essential to organize visas and coordinate with academic institutions and government agencies. Scholars must be medical doctors or nurses and have an excellent understanding of English to be able to fully benefit from the training.
Assunta has visited China 17 times since 1995 to support the development of travel medicine.
The next generation of travel health practitioners
Our scholarship program has expanded since 2002. We have awarded scholarships to 21 Chinese doctors and nurses in addition to two scholars from Kenya, one from Pakistan, and one from Nepal.
The majority of Chinese scholars have passed the Certificate of Travel Health examination offered by the International Society of Travel Medicine. Several scholars, including Dr. Zhang, are now instrumental in shaping the practice of travel medicine in China.
Photo by IAMAT. Dr Elaine Jong (right) and Assunta Uffer-Marcolongo (left) prepare Chinese colleagues for the Certificate in Travel Health Examination.
More about our scholars and our work with CITHA:
Visit our 55th Anniversary page for more articles celebrating milestones in our history, our work, and our relationships with doctors and travellers. Here’s how you can get involved:
- Take an #IAMAT55 selfie with your membership card or medical directory
- Share how IAMAT has made a difference in your travels
- Tell a friend about IAMAT (tag us with #IAMAT55 on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!)
- Shoot a 30-60 second video showcasing why you love to travel
- Donate and give the gift of healthy travel
By Daphne Hendsbee.