Monday, 10 March 2014

Pneumoconiois: China's neglected occupational disease

by Michael Woodhead
Delegates at the National Peoples Congress have called for a compensation fund to be set up for China's leading cause of occupational disease - dust-induced pneumoconiosis. 
Many people were moved recently by the high-profile case of a young Henan man who suffered from the disabling condition, and he was lucky in winning media attention for his case, and securing 30,000 yuan to pay for his treatment costs. However, representatives say that for the vast majority of patients with pneumoconiosis in China there is no such happy ending. Despite being the leading occupational disease, most of the patients are migrant workers, of whom as many as 600,000 are thought to have penumoconiosis. Since most migrant workers are on low wages, few can afford treatment and the disease progresses to the point where they suffer a slow and painful death. For some patients the pain and disability are so much that they commit suicide.
A few local governments have set up schemes to help pay for the treatment of pneumoconiosis, but most patients live in impoverished rural areas where funds are not available for treatment.
At the NPC, one delegate who is the head of the Changsha Hospital, Dr He Binsheng proposed a simple policy that would help end many of the problems with pneumoconiosis patients once and for all. DR He said the answer was to set up a pneumoconiosis treatment fund and also a dust-disease inspection board to supervise high risk industries and prevent further cases from happening. The fund would help pay for the treatment of patients and also provide some social support for their families. Governments could co-operate to set up regional pneumoconiosis treatment and rehab centres for those who are rendered unable to work through pneumoconiosis disability, he said.
Dr He was supported by a Hunan deputy, who said compensation should come from a workplace injury compensation scheme.

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