Shanghai doctors have developed a special type of butter tea, a popular drink in Tibetan families, by adding nutrients that boost the production of blood cells.
During a ceremony earlier this month, Ruijin Hospital Affiliated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine donated 2.5 metric tons of the special butter to Shigatse City People's Hospital in the Tibet autonomous region.
Each patient being treated for nutritional anemia at the Tibetan hospital is now receiving a portion of the butter.
"The kindness from Shanghai will benefit Tibet, its people and their offspring," said Migmar Dorje, president of the Tibetan hospital.
He said the average altitude in Shigatse is more than 4,000 meters, and a diet without enough fruits, vegetables and fresh meat causes many residents－especially peasants and herdsmen－to suffer from nutritional anemia, which severely impairs their health and quality of life.
"The disease, which is rare in many parts of the country, is still common in Tibet because of the lack of nutrition. We're grateful that the Shanghai doctors' clever idea can solve the health problem fundamentally," he said, adding that some patients who tried the special butter tea said the flavor was much the same as what they made at home and they would like to drink it every day.
Ruijin Hospital began sending doctors from its hematological disease department to the Tibetan hospital to give medical support in 2015. They treated local patients and unraveled the pathogenesis of the disease thanks to an epidemiological analysis of more than 2,000 patients.
The doctors then began trying to find a way to add nutritional ingredients including iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 to some recipes that fitted in with Tibetans' dietary habits, eventually setting their sights on butter tea.
Qu Jieming, Party secretary of Ruijin Hospital, said that after researchers discovered the correlation between a lack of iodine and endemic goiters, the government began to encourage the sale of iodized salt in Shandong province and some regions in Northeast China as a national pilot project in the mid-1990s. The project was successful in reducing the morbidity of the disease.
"Similarly, we hope the special butter will be welcomed by the Tibetan people and be extended to a larger population there," he said. "If so, I believed the morbidity of anemia among Tibetans will drop significantly in three to five years."
Li Xiaoyang, a doctor from Ruijin Hospital who is director of the hematological disease department at the Shigatse hospital, said the hospital in Shanghai had joined hands with Jiangsu province's Jiangnan University, which has expertise in food production, to develop the special butter and meet taste and nutrition expectations.
Li said his team will continue to carry out academic exchanges and research projects on anemia in the Tibetan city in an effort to improve the health of local anemia patients.
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