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December 18, 2009

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Deaths highlight city beggars' plight

THE problem of providing medical care for rag pickers and beggars was highlighted recently with two cases of sudden death last Sunday and last month.

Very few rag pickers and beggars can afford to pay for treatment when they are ill and the two groups are not covered by the city's medical system.

A 30-year-old rag picker died at an entrance to the Metro's Xujiahui Station at 7pm last Sunday.

"He couldn't find anything to eat for almost a week and starved to death," said 65-year-old beggar Liu Lan who had known the rag picker for almost six months and witnessed his death. Liu said the man spit out some blood and fell to the ground.

The man, only identified as a Jiangsu Province native, died without a name, family or money, said Liu.

Liu and her two-year-old grandson could hardly make a living by begging, never mind afford medical expenses, she said.

Liu said they could only depend on two things if they were sick, the medicines she brought with her from her hometown, and the Buddha.

A bunch of rag pickers who collected coins at ticket-selling machines had been driven out of the station by the security guards after the death, said a stall vendor surnamed Li at Xujiahui Station.

Wang Minyu, a 39-year-old rag picker from Anhui Province, said he had never been to hospital since he came to the city six years ago.

"When I caught a cold or got a fever, I waited and prayed and miraculously I always recovered without taking any medicine," said Wang. He said he believed more in luck and in the Buddha, who he believed would set the final date for him.

But some among the rag pickers have set up a union to work as a group.

Wu Longyun, 32, who makes a living by collecting bottles at subway stations, said the union would arrange the place for him to work at and he could borrow money if in trouble.

Wu usually took a free ride on the subway to shuttle between stations for a chance of picking up more bottles. Wu's wife earns money by begging on subway trains with their young son while her husband checks garbage cans outside.

The couple earn less than 50 yuan (US$7.3) a day on average and were saving most of their money in case of emergencies such as being ill.

"I hope we three all keep healthy so I can start a business selling fake Haibao at the station with the savings," said Wu. Haibao is the mascot representing the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

According to a local newspaper, another 60-year-old rag picker was found dead in Changfeng Park, Putuo District, on November 24.

The Shanghai Aiding Management Office said they would provide medical care for people who turn to it for help. "But for those vagabonds on the streets, it's hard for us to cover every one of them," said Zhang, an official with the office.

People turning to the office for help needed to provide identity certificates and their family condition. And usually they would be sent back home.

The Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau wouldn't comment on the situation.


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