Thursday, 10 July 2014
The Chinese Dream? A Hangzhou children's hospital tries to help poor families who can't afford to keep their children alive
An amazing article from a Hangzhou hospital reveals the appalling Dickensian situation that now exists in one of China's wealthiest cities, where sick children of the poorest rural migrant workers literally die in the streets from neglect.
Dr Zhang Weifang of the Children’s Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine writes about the efforts the hospital puts in to try provide medical treatment for seriously ill children of rural migrant families, most of whom are not covered by urban medical insurance cover. The situation arises because migrant families living in cities are uninsured or only covered by rural medical insurance policies that have meagre payouts and are not 'portable' to the city. The creates a problem when children become seriously ill with conditions such as leukaemia, congenital heart disease and oddly, scalds (the third most common serious problem they treat at the hospital). The hospital tries to treat such children and makes ad-hoc public appeals through the media and relies on donations from 'warm-hearted people'. It also seeks one-off funding from the government and from a handful of medical charities such as "Love Without Borders". The hospital has been modestly successful in soliciting funds in this way - bringing in almost 4 million yuan in donations in 2011. But to put that in perspective, that amount is only about 0.6% of the hospital's budget. And this did not cover the treatment costs of the most seriously ill children - the hospital also waived half a million in unpaid medical bills for the most severe cases. Nevertheless, most poor families are asked to medical fees pay upfront, in advance of treatment, and many simply can't afford this and "abandoned treatment".
As Dr Zhang writes: "At times, the hospital will reduce or remit the treatment cost for these patients. However, the hospital cannot afford to provide all the uncompensated care these children need ... We try to establish a long-term relationship with media and solicit contributions for low-income families. However, the situation is still far from perfect."
This, then, is the stark reality of China's lack of a health and social security safety net for its most vulnerable citizens. It also explains the huge disparities in health outcomes between China's wealthiest and poorest residents - a six-fold difference in child death rates. President Xi Jinping is often quoted in the Chinese media talking about the "Chinese dream". Martin Luther King had a dream of all Americans being equal, in which "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." Perhaps Xi Jinping could try realise the dream of all sick Chinese children being equal when it comes to getting hospital treatment.