DIY Dialysis

Article excerpt

Byline: Catherine Matacic

In China, desperate patients are forced to innovate.

Seven years ago, a 25-year-old Chinese man name Fu Xuepeng was severely injured in a motorbike accident: paralyzed from the neck down, he was unable to breathe unaided. His family rushed him to Taizhou First People's Hospital, where he was kept on a ventilator for four months. But the money soon ran out. Unable to pay their son's $1,600-a-week medical bill, the family had no choice but to bring him home. The solution to this desperate situation? They bought an emergency, hand-powered ventilator and, together with other family members, took turns pumping in two-hour intervals. Their task eased when one son-in-law rigged an electric motor to power the pump after dark. "If our son cannot care for us, we will care for him. As long as he's still here, all is well," Fu's father, a farmer, said in an interview with Zhejiang News earlier this month.

Fu and his parents are not alone. Facing a growing wealth gap and rising health-care costs, China's poorest often cannot afford the medical devices that could keep them alive. So more and more are turning instead to their own ingenuity. In 2009 a group of patients facing late-stage kidney disease pooled funds to buy several secondhand dialysis machines. And in 2012 Hu Songwen, who had exhausted his family savings on dialysis treatment, posted a video online detailing how he had survived for 13 years on a homemade blood-filtering device.

"Their actions might be atypical," says Chinese health expert Yanzhong Huang, "but they epitomize the helplessness and hopelessness of a significant group of people in China who still cannot afford quality health care." Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the high cost of health care is the biggest problem facing people like Fu and Hu. …