Opinion / Zhu Ping

Eat less, treat more

By Zhu Ping (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2014-05-14 14:56

“Behind red gates the rich wine and dine, while the bones of those frozen to death by the roadside lie.” It’s a shame that the poem by Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poet Du Fu still has traces in modern China.

On one hand, there were about 820,000 meals at public cost served every day, with the expenditure reaching about 300 billion yuan (US$ 48 billion) in 2012, according to the Beijing Times on Wednesday. On the other hand, word came that an Anhui farmer cut off his own feet with the jagged edges of broken tea cups after he was unable to afford surgery.

Liu Dunhe, the 44 year-old farmer from Dingyuan county of Anhui province, was suffering from an illness that stopped blood from circulating to his feet and caused permanent infections. The cost of amputation surgery was 10,000-yuan and the poverty-stricken man said he didn’t even have 1,000 yuan for his treatment. Eventually Liu had to smash pieces of porcelain to sever the rotten parts of both feet, little by little.

Fortunately he survived thanks to his bold self-healing move, making the Du Fu poem only partly applicable. Unfortunately the shocking tragedy is not a lone instance.

Last year, another poor man, a 47-year old farmer named Zheng Yanliang from Qingyuan county of Hebei province, cut off his right leg with a metal saw, a small fruit knife and a back-scratcher wrapped with a towel, after he was diagnosed with arterial thrombosis in the lower limbs.

Of course the two isolated extreme cases can’t cast a shadow on the overall progress of China’s rural healthcare. The healthcare reform plan launched in 2009 has already resulted in health insurance coverage for nearly 95 percent of the population.

And we have to admit that it’s not easy to drastically increase expenditures on rural healthcare since China is the largest developing country, with half of its 1.3-billion population living in rural areas, and more than 100 million people living on $1.25 or less a day.

The current New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a voluntary insurance program for rural residents introduced in 2003, is funded mostly by central and local government subsidies and some enrollee contributions. Usually the farmers need to pay 50 to 100 yuan for every year’s premium.

Some media outlets blamed Liu himself for his own tragedy, as he was too stingy to spare 70 yuan to take part in the NCMS. However, in Liu’s own words, as a single man who could only earn 5,000 to 6,000 yuan a year, he wanted to save every penny to keep his pot boiling.

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