Minority Tibetans in Sichuan are dying of tuberculosis because they cannot spare 360 yuan (HK$340) for a six-month course of vaccinations, foreign observers say. Ignorance of the disease, both among the impoverished population and the region's health professionals, is compounding the problem, they say. Doctors in local clinics do not know how to use basic equipment such as X-ray machines, or that they need to store vaccines in refrigerators. One clinic has up-to-date equipment but has not had electricity for six months. Elsewhere, locals are dying of tuberculosis because they cannot spare money for six months of vaccinations and do not realise the disease spreads through coughing. These are among the findings of five foreign cyclists, including a doctor and a clinic marketing manager, whose 600km mountain bike trip took them to the ethnic Tibetan Kham area. Kham, in the northeast of the province, is as poor as Tibet itself but more obscure because it does not generate foreign interest. On the 10-day trip last month from Kangding to Dege, in Kham, the cyclists stopped at 10 clinics to drop off supply bags donated by the International SOS aid group, which runs a chain of clinics. They also went to draw attention to Kham and raise US$100,000 (HK$780,000) in donations for the US-based organisation Kham Aid. 'You have five foreigners on silver bicycles, and [local Tibetans] were running out of their fields,' said cyclist Martin Dunphy, sales and marketing manager of International SOS Beijing clinic. 'We were welcome everywhere we went.' They were struck first by the poverty on the journey, which took them over 5,000-metre-high mountain passes. The cyclists learned that most families earned about 800 yuan a year and education cost 2,480 yuan a year. This meant girls did not go to school. Most people lived off the land, growing mushrooms and grass for yaks. If a yak died, the family suffered. 'We never saw a patient in any one of the clinics,' Mr Dunphy said. 'That tells you people can't afford it.' The cyclists gave each clinic X-ray and ultrasound machines, carried in a support bus. The lone doctor in the group, Bruce Beattie of the International SOS clinic in Beijing, showed clinic staff how to use the equipment and chose three local doctors for training in Beijing. Dr Beattie also encouraged Kham doctors to practise health care 'out of a shoebox', said Mr Dunphy, referring to the need to make do without expensive equipment. Last week, cyclist and Kham Aid founder Pam Logan delivered 240 wheelchairs and 50 pieces of physiotherapy equipment to villagers. She received help from five disability professionals and the Chinese Government for the project. Road accidents or diseases such as leprosy and cerebral palsy have left many disabled in Kham. 'These people have never received anything in their lives, let alone a wheelchair or so many people helping,' Ms Logan said.