Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Downton Abbey? No, Beijing: domestic servants have fake health ceritficates, risk passing on infections to kids

by Michael Woodhead
For a newspaper that is supposed to be upholding the spirit of socialism, the Beijing Daily is sounding uncannily like the bourgeois Daily Mail these days. 
In today's issue there is a lengthy feature dedicated to investigating the question of whether domestic staff can be trusted when it comes to health and hygiene. More specifically, the paper has an in-depth report on the bona fides of the health certificates that nannnies, cleaners and other domestic ayi-style servants present to their employers as evidence of their suitability for working in the household. The Beijing Daily reports the case of a female obstetrician, Zhao Li, who spent months and more than 10,000 yuan looking for a suitable nanny for her 2-year old daughter. When she found the right nanny, she was assured by the domestic staffing agency that the woman was of good character and had a health inspection certificate. However, being a meticulous medical mother, Zhao Li was concerned about the possible risks to her daughter's health and decided to double check the nanny's health status by having her undergo a health checkup at her own hospital. She was shocked to discover that the young nanny was hepatitis B positive and also had a fungal skin infection. "My daughter could have been exposed to many infectious diseases. These health certificates they present are worthless," she told the paper.
When reporters from the Beijing Daily inquired further they found that  nannies and other domestic staff are not required by law to have the state-monitored health checks that are required by other employment sectors such as hotel and food preparation staff - and yet they do much the same work. Domestic staff are certified by the employment agencies, which have a vested financial interest in showing that their 'workers' are in excellent condition. The health checks for domestic staff are done by private clinics and there is no supervision of their standards or identity checks - it was reported that some would-be employees sent a healthy 'impersonator' in to have their tests done for them. A spokesman for a reputable public hospital (the PLA 302 Hospital) that has  a clinic for employment health certification said that many domestic servants were migrant workers and often had been exposed to many infectious diseases. As well as hepatitis they frequently detected diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, intestinal and skin diseases. Females they tested sometimes had vaginal thrush and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the spokesman said.
A doctor at the hospital said domestic servants might pass on viral, bacterial and fungal disease to household members via washing facilities, eating utensils and if they were in contact with the bathroom. The Beijing Daily report concludes that it is an anomaly that domestic helpers are not covered by regulations related to employment health checks. They advise that anyone employing a nanny or domestic cleaner/cook should have them checked for a wide range of diseases including respiratory infections (eg tuberculosis), STIs, intestinal diseases (eg amoebic dysentery), hepatitis, skin diseases and also have up to date vaccinations for childhood infections.

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