Sick mainland Chinese children find life-saving help in Hong Kong

For some young mainland children with the right of abode, HK medical treatment is a life-saver

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:22pm

Emaciated from the cancer attacking her young body, Yutung weighed just 13.9kg when she was first brought from the mainland to Hong Kong for treatment nine months ago.

Now aged five, Yutung has put on weight and her ruddy cheeks and bouncing energy suggest good health. Only the fake curls covering her head remind a visitor she has been under treatment for cancer at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, since April.

It is difficult to comprehend that she is one of the children that have raised many Hongkongers' concerns about the city's health and welfare system being overburdened by young mainland children with the right of abode in the city.

Yutung was born across the border to a mainland mother and Hong Kong father. About a third of the childhood cancer patients at the hospital have full Hong Kong residency rights and at least one parent who from the  mainland.

But if there is one place where the debate over resources has apparently not stirred up resentment, it is at this children's cancer centre. "I didn't even think of this question," said Elaine Tang Chow May-kan, a 59-year-old volunteer with the Little Life Warrior Society, a support group run by childhood cancer survivors, their family and medical workers. Based at the Prince of Wales Hospital, it aids youngsters battling cancer and other serious diseases - and helps parents far from their mainland homes and families.

"We understand each other, even with our different cultural backgrounds," said society member Jacqui Cheung Wai-fun, whose son is undergoing treatment at the centre. "What we have in common is that we love our kids, so we share our knowledge … they [mainland Chinese] are far from home with no one to help them," she said.

The number of new childhood cancer cases receiving treatment in Hong Kong has remained steady over the past decade, at around 150 to 160 each year. The number of mainland patients has grown to two dozen or so per year, while new cases from Hong Kong have declined.