Clinic Death Sparks Protests

Thousands demonstrate over alleged malpractice at a privately-owned clinic in southwestern China.

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guiyang-hospital-305.jpg Chinese medical workers move a patient from an ambulance to a hospital in Guiyang, July 13, 2009.

Security remained tight in the southwestern Chinese city of Guiyang after police seized the body of a 20-year-old man who died after an allergic reaction to medication, prompting thousands of protesters to gather outside a privately-owned clinic at the weekend, residents said on Monday.

The man was being treated at the clinic in the city's Xiaohe district, and died after doctors there failed to administer a skin test before treating him, online reports said.

An official who answered the phone at the Huaihe Road police station confirmed the incident took place.

"This was a case of a medical accident," she said. "The health bureau has sent people over there to handle it."

A local resident surnamed Fu said clashes had broken out between police and relatives over the dead man's body.

"Patients who were at the clinic and the family members were preventing the police from taking the body away ... for cremation," he said.

"Four people were injured, including the relatives of the dead man," Fu added. "The dead man's mother was beaten until she fell over in a faint."

"They were all taken to hospital."

Another local resident surnamed Zhang said medical accidents were now commonplace in China. "[They happen] in clinics and hospitals because the quality of medical supplies is very low. People often die as a result," he said.

"There is no redress for the relatives of those who die; their only option is to kick up a fuss, so mass incidents where the police snatch the dead body and beat up the relatives are very common," Zhang added.

Tight security

Meanwhile, local political activists said security was tight in Guiyang.

"They have been keeping a close watch on us in the past couple of days," said local pro-democracy activist Wu Yuqin. "It probably has something to do with this incident."

Residents said thousands of people gathered outside the clinic on Saturday following the man's death.

"There was a pretty large mass incident over at Xiaohe the day before yesterday," a Guiyang resident surnamed Ma said on Monday. "The roads were blocked because of a medical accident."

"They sent in a lot of police ... and riot police ... the traffic was blocked everywhere," Ma said. "In the end, the police took the body away."

He said the confrontation had lasted all night, with "several hundred" police officers trying to get hold of the young man's body.

"They took it in the end, because there were too many police, so how would ordinary people hold out against them ... They even sent in the anti-riot squad, so what can you do?"

Weekend standoff

The standoff began on Saturday after the man, a migrant worker from Guizhou's Bijie city, died at the privately-owned clinic, which contacted the police, but not the man's employer or his relatives, according to the U.S.-based Chinese news site Jasmine Revolution.

His relatives soon arrived, however, and staged a protest outside the clinic. Large numbers of people tried to force open the clinic doors, drawing even larger crowds to the scene, who chanted angry slogans at the police, the site said in a news report.

It said police had detained large numbers of people in a standoff that ended only in the early hours of Sunday morning.

A Xiaohe resident surnamed Li said the district was calm on Monday.

"There were about 2-3,000 people there ... after the medical accident," he said. "It's all quiet now; we shall see how they deal with it now."

Officials who answered the phone at the Xiaohe district government offices declined to comment, only offering alternate phone numbers. The last of these numbers went unanswered during office hours on Monday.

A third local resident said the entire area had been sealed off during the incident. "We couldn't see what was going on," he said. "Even if they were arresting people, they wouldn't let us know about it."

He said the incident had gone unreported in official media. "The police wouldn't let them report an incident of this kind," he said.

Recent scandals

China has been hit by a string of healthcare and product safety scandals in recent years.

Bad medical practice in local clinics was blamed recently for a recent sharp rise in hepatitis C infections in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Experts say public health scandals are commonly reported across China, and continue to emerge because officials and healthcare professionals found responsible seldom lose their jobs.

A lack of clear channels for medical malpractice victims to pursue compensation claims or complaints also hampers attempts by Chinese citizens to supervise health care professionals.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service and by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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