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TUNIS－Fatima Kehila, a retired Tunisian teacher who used to suffer from leg arthritis for years, felt very lucky that she has been cured after receiving free acupuncture treatment from a Chinese medical team.
Living in Sidi Thabet, a rural town in the northern suburbs of Tunisian capital Tunis, Kehila received the treatment at home every week by the Chinese doctors on a medical assistance mission in Tunis.
Every week, the team of five crosses a distance of around 30 kilometers to provide free acupuncture therapy to local residents of this small town.
"These patients mainly suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, cervical and lumbar spondylosis," explained He Shuiyong, head of the Chinese medical team.
He attributed the diseases largely to the cold winter and humidity of the local weather along the coast of the Mediterranean.
Kehila told Xinhua that the town was located in less-developed areas and it is expensive for local residents to get access to medical treatment in hospitals.
"For years, Chinese doctors treated local residents for free and I decided to thank them in my way," Kehila said.
In November 2016, Kehila transformed her home into a place especially for Chinese doctors to work in Sidi Thabet.
She turned two living rooms of her house, covering nearly 50 square meters, into a clinic. The small place was always full of people every Saturday afternoon when the doctors come.
"Every time, there will be around 50 to 60 patients waiting here," said Kehila. "I prepared chairs, beds and sofa for the convenience of the treatment."
Men and women patients were separated in two rooms. After Chinese doctors gently apply tiny needles into the patient"s skin as part of the treatment, the patients would start chatting with each other to relax.
Samira Seffa, 55, who has been suffering from rheumatism, was introduced to the Chinese team for treatment by her relatives. She began the acupuncture treatment three months ago, and the effect is obvious.
"I"m allergic to some chemical drugs, but Chinese acupuncture is a natural treatment with no chemical ingredients involved," Seffa said.
This weekend, Seffa"s 26-year-old son came with her.
"At home, my mom always talks about the effectiveness of acupuncture. I come to relieve the pain of my knee today," said Seffa"s son Mrmarwan. "At first, I thought the needles would hurt, but I feel OK after trying."
Acupuncture is a major form of treatment in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which has been practiced for over 2,500 years. TCM is widely used in China and has won increasing recognition in other parts of the world.
Chinese acupuncture was introduced to Tunisia in the 1970s and has become increasingly popular. "Besides curing diseases, acupuncture is also widely used to treat obesity," said He.
Amel Youssef, 45, successfully lost nearly 30 kg of weight after receiving acupuncture treatment for two years.
"The outcome is satisfying. I feel healthy and happy," Youssef laughed.
Ahmed Nouira, a 70-year-old retired gardener, volunteered to be the translator between the Chinese doctors and local patients during the treatment process, as local residents rarely speak English or French.
"The Chinese medical team helped our poor residents get rid of their health problems. They are our true friends," said Nouira. "It is not only a therapy, but a friendship bridge between peoples of Tunisia and China."
Each time, the free acupuncture treatment lasts for two hours. Kehila usually prepares mint tea and local desserts for the Chinese doctors to have a brief rest.
"My family members all support my decision," Kehila said. "I feel honored to have Chinese doctors at my home."
China started to send medical teams to Tunisia in 1974 as part of its medical aid efforts. Around 1,000 Chinese doctors have worked in the North African country ever since.