12/21/2006, 00.00
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Maniland women: having babies in Hong Kong to cost more

More than 30 per cent of all babies delivered in Hong Kong are born to non-local mothers. Quality care but also China’s One-Child policy explains the phenomenon. Now Hong Kong wants to increase hospital fees for non residents.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – If the Hospital Authority board had its way, mainland women would have to pay more to give birth in Hong Kong so as to ease the pressure on public hospital maternity services.

Currently, mainland women pay HK$ 20,000 (about US$ 2,600) for a three-day stay in hospital, but authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk proposed the fee to rise to between HK,000 and HK,000 (US$ 3,800-6,400).

The proposal came after talks between Hong Kong Health Chief York Chow Yat-ngok and mainland China’s Health Minister Gao Qiang on the issue made no progress.

About 30 per cent of the babies delivered in Hong Kong public hospitals are born to non-local mothers, that is 19,538 out of 57,100 babies delivered in the former British colony last year.

Also last year, 14,460 non-local women used public obstetric services, about 50 per cent more than in 2003, putting a heavy burden on frontline medical staff.

Better health care explains the influx, some experts say. Others instead believe that it is a way to get around China’s One-Child policy, especially since the influx does not involve any other medical procedure.

Whatever the reasons local authorities are concerned about the greater costs and the higher risks of infections for medical staff, such as HIV, from patients who have not had proper health checks before coming to Hong Kong to give birth.

This is why the authorities will launch a drive to recruit more nurses and midwives to boost maternity wards.

Last week Hong Kong Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan proposed local mothers have priority over non-residents in obstetric services.

Many women also fail to pay hospital fees. An Audit Commission report in October said that hospitals failed to collect unpaid fees amounting to more than HK$ 321 million over the past five years, 70 per cent by non-locals.

And because of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, babies born in the Special Autonomous Region have the right to abode even though the local government is stingy when it comes to granting residency rights to mainlanders to avoid large scale immigration. There are fears that all these Hong Kong-born babies will demand the right to live in the territory.

Hong Kong lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki has called for changes to the law. But for others there is no problem to deal with.

We do not even know if these babies are here to stay,” asked Wong Siu-lun, convenor of the Council for Sustainable Development's support group on population policy. “So it is better to first have a more in-depth study of the matter”. (PB)

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