Dr. Joshua Samuel Horn
Joshua Horn started life as a poor boy, born in London in 1914, of parents who were refugees from the Russian pogroms. Horn studied medicine by way of a scholarship at University College, where he joined the Socialist Medical Association. His first clinical experiences were treating the blisters of Hunger Marchers, when he became a committed Communist.
He qualified in 1936 and signed on as a ship’s surgeon bound for China. He wrote vividly of the poverty he saw in Shangahi in his short visit. He returned to London and worked as a surgeon at the London docks and sometimes abroad for the next few years.
After the war he was appointed a consultant surgeon in Birmingham. In 1954, he returned to China with his family, to help build the peoples’ republic as an accident surgeon, and stayed for fifteen years until 1969, when he returned to Britain to teach anatomy.
His book "Away with all pests – an English Surgeon in People’s China” is still inspirational to medical students today. In it, he describes how snail fever, a particularly prevalent parasitic illness, as well as other physical and social ills, were eliminated by the revolution.
Horn was involved in the training of `Barefoot Doctors’. (The system applied from the early 1960s to 1981 and the name comes from the south China practice of working barefoot in rice paddies.) These were volunteer peasants who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training. They worked in villages to promote basic hygiene, preventive health care, and family planning and treated common illnesses
As trainees they studied anatomy, physiology, pathology and bacteriology. Practical skills were taught according to the principle advocated by Mao of learning through work. These trainees shadowed qualified doctors and held their own pre-assessment clinics. The teaching focused on common diseases that were likely to be encountered and they learned the use of 40 major drugs. Their studies were not just confined to the Western school of medicine – Barefoot Doctors had to learn 50 acupuncture points, the use of common herbs. More than just treating disease, a large part of the work of Barefoot Doctors was preventative, for example ensuring that the first thing to do upon entering a village is to purify the well water.
MW and GS
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