Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – One-year-old Yang Huan is among the 290,000 babies diagnosed with urinary tract problems linked to powdered milk formula contaminated with toxic melamine. She has been in hospital for the past six months suffering from painful kidney stones but her father, Yang Yong, a construction worker in Hangzhou, cannot afford the medical bills as government help is not forthcoming. His daughter’s story is just another example of the kind of indifference and injustice that prevail in economically booming China.
Huan’s father told Hong Kong’s Caijing magazine that relatives loaned the family 5,000 yuan but since May the medical bill has topped 20,000 yuan. According to the hospital staff, the girl must be operated but that would cost another 20,000 and so the operation had to be postponed twice.
After the scandal became public, the Health Ministry on 13 September said that medical tests and treatment for all melamine-tainted children aged three and under would be free. But so far the government has failed to allocate enough funds. For example, the Zibo District Hospital in Shandong Province provided free medical tests at a cost of 300,000 yuan, of which only 60,000 yuan came from the government.
Overall news reports are discouraging. The Henan provincial branch of the Health Ministry issued a notice on 29 October saying provincial medical institutions would stop offering out-patient checkups; only municipal and county-level hospitals would continue free tests.
Similar notices were issued in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces.
The Shanghai Children’s Hospital has continued offering free B-ultrasonic scans to children three and younger, but patients must pay for all follow-up treatment.
Expenditures are huge since melamine-related health problems have been found in more than 1.3 percent of the 22 million babies reported tested as of 30 November for the toxic formula, this according to the Health Ministry.
Many hospitals continue to provide free treatment hoping that the government will reimburse them, eventually, but many have already said that they will not be able to go on like this.
Taizhou Enze Medical Centre in Zhejiang said that during the SARS outbreak in 2003, for example, it spent more than 4 million yuan but received only 1.2 million yuan from the government.
Meanwhile families have sued the Sanlu dairy company, one of the main corporate offenders in the case, for damages.
Judges however have so far rejected their applications, arguing that official inquiries are still pending on liabilities.
Similarly as late as 1 December a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said that compensation packages were still under review.
Any trial would also take a long time and experts believe that it would be hard for anyone to prove that kidney problems are directly related to drinking only Sanlu milk.
Informed by doctors that medical treatment at Xuzhou Children’s Hospital in nearby Jiangsu Province was cheaper, little Huan’s family made the journey in late November. Doctors performed the surgery on 3 December.
Liao Siyao, 4, who is currently recovering at a hospital affiliated with the Medical College of Guangzhou, is too old to qualify for government assistance. Her medical costs have topped 100,000 yuan, all coming out of her family’s purse.
Zhao Lianhai launched a website called Kidney Stone Babies for the families of the little victims.
On the other hand, some babies were not allowed to stay in hospital because their kidney stones were too small, but they run the risk that their conditions might deteriorate and develop into hydronephrosis, a condition that could cause complications for the rest of their lives.