Boy's death sparks protest at China hospital -group

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BEIJING, Nov 12 (Reuters) About 2,000 people protested outside a Chinese hospital over high medical fees, prompting police to break up the demonstration, a human rights group.

The protest occurred after the death of a three-year-old boy who died on November 7 after drinking pesticide. His death raised suspicions about the way he might have been treated by the hospital.

He died shortly after arriving at Guangan Second Hospital in southwestern Sichuan province, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement yesterday, without giving details.

The hospital declined to comment.

Soaring medical costs and episodes of overcharging at Chinese hospitals have stirred a nationwide outcry. State media have highlighted the disputes.

The November 10 protest denounced unreasonable medical fees and past incidents, the rights group said, without being specific.

About 100 armed police dispersed the crowd, leading to a clash in which 10 people were wounded and five were detained.

In a statement, the Guangan municipal government said local authorities cleared the hospital of wrongdoing.

The hospital had offered the appropriate emergency treatment to the boy before accepting any fees, said the statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

The boy's grandfather had paid 123 yuan to the hospital, instead of the full 639 yuan fee, after the boy had died, the statement said.

Such medical costs are beyond the reach of many in the Chinese countryside, where the average annual income is several times less than for people living in booming coastal cities.

The issue of rising medical costs has been forced onto the agenda of China's ruling Communist Party, now grappling to narrow a widening gap between the country's rich and poor.

President Hu Jintao has called for the government to play a bigger role in providing medical care and pledged to keep reforming the country's strained hospitals and clinics.


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