China might feel on top of the world thanks to its astounding economic progress of recent years. But millions are left out of the process.
Tacitly admitting the bitter fact, China's health authority Monday suggested a government foundation to assist the poor with the costs of treating emergencies and serious diseases, reports Xinhua news agency.
The suggestion comes in the wake of the death of a pregnant migrant woman in Beijing.
Li Liyun, a 22-year-old who was in her ninth month of pregnancy, died of serious pneumonia at Jingxi Hospital in western Beijing on Nov. 21 as her husband refused to let doctors perform Caesarean surgery.
The couple, from central China's Hunan Province, were migrant workers in the western suburbs of Beijing. The husband, Xiao Zhijun, works at a restaurant with a monthly salary of 700 yuan (about 93 U.S. dollars).
According to the local daily newspaper Beijing Times, Li had received scant medical attention before she sought emergency treatment at Jingxi Hospital. Generally, an expectant mother would have about 12 pre-natal exams. But her husband had only sent her to a private clinic twice for treatment of a cold.
The hospital had offered to do a Caesarean free of charge but the husband did not believe it. Further, the Beijing Times quoted him as saying that he thought that doctors made things worse.
"We came here to treat the cold, not give birth. 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 said.
In Beijing, a normal spontaneous delivery in a hospital will cost about 5,000 yuan, while a Caesarean will cost about 7,000 yuan.
Xiao said that he had consulted government departments about receiving free delivery service but had not found any policy to assist mothers-to-be such as Li.
The Chinese government has launched a basic health insurance network for urban residents, but migrant workers do not qualify as they are not permanent residents.
"We have seen that there are few effective channels to help the poor when they have serious diseases," Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health, at a press conference.
Hospitals, especially public hospitals, have a responsibility to save lives, he said. But about 10 billion yuan worth of fee-for-service at public hospitals had not been paid by the end of last year.
A government foundation would help solve the problem, he said, adding that hospitals and the foundation could share the task to help the poor.
Li's death raised a controversy among the media and the public about whether the hospital should have performed surgery without the permission of the husband, given the seriousness of the woman's condition.
The Beijing municipal health department said on Nov. 28 that its own investigation had found that the hospital had acted in accordance with relevant codes.
The hospital said at a press conference on Nov. 24 that Li and her child were in critical condition when seen at the hospital and that a Caesarean operation had been required.
The doctors had clearly explained the situation to the husband and spent three hours trying to persuade him and promising free surgery, it said.