Too poor for healthcare, Chinese man cuts off his own feet

PHOTO: Too poor for healthcare, Chinese man cuts off his own feet

CHINA - 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 (S$2,008) 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. 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 per cent 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 US$1.25 or less a day.

The current New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a voluntary insurance programme 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.

That's why this extreme rare case touched people's nerves: It constituted a sharp contrast to the huge waste on unnecessary public expenditure like expensive public-funded meals.

Song Lin, the sacked chairman of State-owned China Resources who is now under investigation, was exposed to have spent 1.2 million yuan on a single meal. Each of six bottles of red wine at the feast cost about 120,000 yuan.

That means, the cost of that single, luxurious meal could have helped at least 17,000 farmers be protected from ailments under the NCMS in one year.

Supported by the people, the government needs to continue to fight against the waste of public money on luxurious meals.

It needs to demand the government at all levels raise transparency of public expenditure, in order to help divert more public funds to the people in need.