Trip for cheaper poultry ends in bird flu tragedy and a deep debt for medical costs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am
 

Nineteen-year-old Beijing-based migrant worker Huang Yanqing would not have travelled to Yanjiao, Hebei province , to buy ducks if the difference in price had not been so important to her.

And if she had not travelled, Huang would probably have avoided being infected by the deadly bird flu virus.

'For our migrant workers, every penny counts. I don't think people living well in the city understand how we struggle to make a living,' said Huang Yagou , her uncle.

On December 19, Huang Yanqing returned home with nine ducks for probably half of what they would have cost in Beijing, and three were served up to the nine family members living in the three-room home. Six others were saved for a New Year's Day feast, her uncle said.

But the young woman came down with a fever the next day and a cough four days later, and was sent to hospital on December 27.

The hospital did not explain Huang's condition, except to say that she had a lung problem.

None of Huang's eight relatives who ate the ducks the same day showed any symptoms, so when they were told that the young woman was in serious condition and had to be sent to the expensive Beijing Chest Hospital, the whole family was shocked.

The cost of medical care was another shock to the family, which borrowed 100,000 yuan (HK$113,400) from relatives back home in Putian , Fujian , to keep up the treatment.

When the family was told that the woman had died yesterday morning, they were also notified that the 100,000 yuan had been used up for her care.

Huang arrived in Beijing two years ago with her parents, who work as interior decorators in the city's real estate industry.

Another uncle, Huang Jinxian , who shares the three-room house with the family, said the woman's parents made a little more than 1,000 yuan a month and had to save money to support an extensive family back in Fujian. They paid the landlord 700 yuan a month for three rooms and had few possessions apart from their beds, some small TVs and coal-burning stoves.

With confirmation of Huang Yanqing's death and cremation of her body, the family is now confronted by the huge debt for her medical care.

'I hope the government can lend us a helping hand, because we have no way to pay back the 100,000 yuan debt on our own,' Huang Jinxian said.

Many of the relatives who lent the money for her treatment would probably be waiting for repayment to prepare for the Lunar New Year.

'This will certainly be a bad year for us, but I don't really want to ruin my relatives' year altogether,' Huang Jinxian said.

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