Four trains retrofitted as mobile hospitals will depart Beijing this month on an eight-month mission to help thousands around China regain their sight, according to plans unveiled on Thursday by the Chinese Foundation for Lifeline Express.
The rainbow-colored trains, carrying high-tech surgical equipment and experienced doctors, aim to provide free cataract surgery to about 9,600 people in remote areas, according to founder Nellie Fong.
This year's plan will cover nine cities including Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang province, Jincheng in Shanxi province, Bazhong in Sichuan province and the Yili Kazak autonomous prefecture in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
The foundation, which was started in 1997, expects to have helped a total of 200,000 patients in 28 provincial areas by the end of this year.
The charitable group has set up 75 permanent cataract treatment centers, which also provide training for doctors from local hospitals in the treatment of common eye ailments.
Diabetics in the nine urban areas will also gain access to free screening for retinal damage and detailed diagnoses if problems are found.
"China urgently needs a system to detect early diabetic retinopathy, which can save many people from future vision loss," Fong said.
About 92.4 million people are living with diabetes in China, and 40 million to 60 million are estimated to have diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the retina, according to the National Health Commission.
In 2014, the foundation also helped to establish 40 permanent centers nationwide to detect early diabetic retinopathy and successfully diagnosed nearly 80,000 patients as of last year.
According to Le Aimei, who is a poverty alleviation ambassador for the Foreign Ministry and works on public health issues, the foundation will continue to bring a higher quality of life to more people in countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Over the past two years, medical experts in China traveled to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar to conduct over 1,000 free eye surgeries. They also provided medical treatment guidance to local doctors.
"Thanks to the medical assistance, friendships between China and countries along the Belt and Road will be strengthened. Many doctors in those countries also asked for short-term training in China, and such contacts will lead to better mutual understanding between people on both sides," Le said.