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Health Fund Proposed for the Needy

The health authorities have proposed setting up a government-backed foundation to assist the poor with medical emergencies and serious diseases, following the death of a pregnant migrant woman in a Beijing hospital.

"We have submitted a proposal to the department in charge to set up a State foundation for health assistance to the poor," Mao Qun'an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said at a press conference in Beijing yesterday.

Li Liyun, a 22-year-old who was in her ninth month of pregnancy, died of severe pneumonia at Jingxi Hospital on November 21 after her husband refused to let doctors perform a Caesarean section on her.

The migrant worker came with her husband from Hunan Province and lived in the western suburbs of Beijing. The husband, Xiao Zhijun, works at a restaurant drawing a monthly salary of 700 yuan (US$95).

Local daily Beijing Times reported that Li had received scant medical attention before she sought emergency treatment at Jingxi Hospital.

Generally, an expectant mother would have about 12 prenatal exams. But her husband had taken her to a private clinic only twice to be treated for a cold.

The hospital had offered to do a Caesarean free of charge but the husband did not believe it. The Beijing Times also quoted him as saying that he thought doctors had made things worse.

"We came here to treat the cold, not to deliver the baby. There is one month left (for delivery). They should let her recover from the cold and then she can give birth without the operation," he had said.

In Beijing, a normal delivery in a hospital costs about 5,000 yuan, while a Caesarean costs about 7,000 yuan.

The husband said at the time that he had spoken to government departments about getting free maternity services but had not found any policy to assist mothers-to-be such as Li.

The government has in place a basic health insurance network for urban residents, but migrant workers do not qualify because they are not permanent residents.

"We have seen that there are few effective channels to help the poor when they are suffering from serious diseases," Health Ministry spokesman Mao said in Beijing.

Hospitals, especially public ones, have a responsibility to save lives, he said. But about 10 billion yuan worth of services at public hospitals had not been claimed by the end of last year.

A government foundation will help solve the problem, he said, adding that hospitals and the foundation could share the responsibility of helping the poor.

Li's death also raised a furor among the media and the public over whether the hospital should have performed surgery without the husband's consent, given the seriousness of the woman's condition.

The hospital said at a press conference on November 24 that Li and her child were in critical condition and that a Caesarean operation was needed.

Doctors had clearly explained the situation to the husband and spent three hours trying to persuade him and promised free surgery, it said.

The Beijing municipal health department later said on November 28 that its own investigation had found that the hospital acted in accordance with relevant codes.

(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2007)

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