Health Petitioner Detained

Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained a woman after she protested outside the health ministry at her son's illness which she said was linked to medical errors at the hospital.

Zhang Chunxia was taken away by Beijing police on Wednesday after she unfurled a banner outside the ministry of health, she said.

The health ministry usually calls the police to remove protesters outside its gates, according to a police officer.

"I was detained," Zhang said from a hospital waiting room, where she was getting a check-up following a sudden rise in blood pressure. "They didn't announce it formally, but they told me that it would be for five days."

"I was held in the Xicheng district detention center, and my blood pressure went up, so right now I am in the hospital with two policemen getting my blood pressure checked, and an electrocardiogram," she said.

Zhang, who lives in the central city of Wuhan, began petitioning after her 23-year-old son was left crippled by a medical error at the city's Tongji Hospital four years ago.

"I have sought redress from Tongji [Hospital], and the boss there told me I was lucky the treatment didn't kill him, which made me very unhappy," she said.

Zhang's banner, which she unfurled outside the health ministry, read: "Tongji hospital may be very powerful, but its parents are the health minstry."

An officer who answered the phone at the Zhanlan Road police station confirmed Zhang's detention.

"Yes, yes, that's her," he said. "I'm not sure exactly how they are dealing with this, so you'll have to ask the duty officer, who isn't here now."

He said the health ministry frequently called on local police to remove petitioners outside its gates. "Usually, someone from the health ministry will call the police station. This happens quite a lot," he said.

"Mostly they get sent back to their hometowns, but it depends on the circumstances."

Frequent protests

The health ministry is no stranger to protests, which are often linked to safety and financial scandals in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

Earlier this week, parents from across China converged on the ministry to call for compensation in the death of at least one child and severe illness in others linked to compulsory measles vaccinations rolled out nationwide last year.

Parents from the eastern provinces of Shandong and Anhui, Heilongjiang in the northeast, and the southwestern megacity of Chongqing displayed photographs and posters detailing their children's reactions outside the ministry headquarters on Monday, drawing a crowd of bystanders.

Zhang Lin, a parent from Anhui whose two-year-old son developed a blood disorder after receiving the injection during a nationwide measles vaccination campaign last year, said there had been a constant procession of petitioners outside the ministry's gates in recent days.

"Every day there are between 10 and 20 people [who go there], all relating to medical mistakes," Zhang said.

"Some of them are former doctors and nurses who have lost their jobs after reporting fraudulent insurance claims by hospitals."

He said the arrests appeared to be made to send a message to other petitioners. "They said that Li Chunxia from Wuhan had blocked pedestrian access to the gates, so they got the police to take her away," he added.

A parent from the northeastern city of Harbin surnamed Li said he had seen no progress in his attempts to win compensation for his two-year-old son, who has been in hospital seven or eight times after suffering a reaction to the measles vaccine.

"There's been no progress at all," Li said. "The relevant national-level departments are too irresponsible."

"They leave us here outside the gates, and ignore us. This is the first time I have petitioned national-level departments, and I didn't think it would be like this," he said.

Measles vaccination

Health ministry officials launched the free measles vaccination program from Sept. 11-20, 2010 in a bid to eradicate the disease and reassure the public that the vaccines were safe.

Targeting 100 million Chinese schoolchildren, the campaign was the brainchild of disease control czar Hao Yang, who has said he wants to eliminate filariasis and measles by 2012.

Last September, authorities at the Longcheng No. 1 High School near Beiliu city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region stopped administering the measles injections after the death of one pupil.

Luo Yunfeng, a third-year student at the school, died suddenly following a high fever just two days after receiving the vaccine, teachers said at the time.

But Li and other parents affected by the measles vaccine vowed to stay on to press their case.

"When we get a decent response from the health ministry, that's when we'll leave Beijing," he said.

Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.