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December 4, 2019

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A tale of an actor’s death and emergency aid

A trending topic on China’s social media these days is the death of a Chinese actor caused possibly by overwork.

Godfrey Tsao slumped and passed out while filming an episode of a reality show in eastern China’s Ningbo City on November 27. He was whisked to hospital but succumbed to cardiac arrest.

Fans and media blamed his death on the physically challenging process he had to go through to complete the filming of the show.

The tragedy has again shone a spotlight on the so-called karoshi, or death resulting from overwork, and particularly on how woefully unprepared the Chinese public appears to be in the face of cardiac arrest, which has been cited as one of the top killers of urban Chinese accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle.

According to Xinmin Evening News, the Shanghai Red Cross Society received 260 calls within two days last week, with callers querying staff about where to undergo training in emergency aid to cope with life-threatening situations like heart attack.

Until then the Society had received an average 20 calls a day. The spike was solely ascribed to the death of the actor, the report said.

Besides, the institution was also flooded with inquiries about where to find automated external defibrillator, a device designed for resuscitation, in Shanghai, and how to use them.

It’s tragically embarrassing that were it not for the death of a celebrity, public awareness of the importance of emergency aid education would have remained low.

In fact, emergency aid has long been absent from public school education and on-job training, despite a high-profile government action plan mandating that citizens possessing emergency aid qualifications reach 1 percent and 3 percent of the entire population by 2020 and 2030.

Two-pronged approach

In order for that to happen, a bottom-up awareness campaign and a top-down government push are both needed.

One of the problems inhibiting the proliferation of emergency aid knowledge is the scarce use of some 1,400 AEDs already deployed across the city.

According to Zhang Aiping, an official with the Shanghai Red Cross Society, it’s hard for paramedics to arrive on scene within a short period of time after receiving a call for help.

For patients suffering cardiac arrest, his or her chances of survival largely depend on access to emergency aid applied by bystanders within “four golden minutes,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

In 2017, the Society issued a map indicating locations of the AED pick-up points around Shanghai, but the problem is, with the public, even the personnel responsible for keeping these devices in running order, not properly trained on how to use them in life-or-death situations, these expensive items risk becoming white elephants.

The authority has periodically organized volunteers into groups checking on the existing AED equipment, documenting their status as “operable,” “damaged” or “stolen.”

This, according to Zhang, is one way of ensuring the proper management of life-saving devices.

The authority is also mulling measures to update the AED system through technology, so as to track each unit in a timely fashion.

The next goal, it seems, is to mobilize more members of the public to begin systemic training in emergency aid and use of AED. This can start, most effectively, with regulations making knowledge such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation mandatory in school education and workplace rules.

Considerable shortage

“There is a considerable shortage of AEDs in China compared to developed Western countries,” Zhang of the Shanghai Red Cross Society conceded. “But more importantly, the current focus ought to be on research and scientific design, so that AEDs can be put where accessibility is unrestricted.”

In addition to adding AED pick-up points in public areas, enhancing public awareness is also critical to the overall aim of reducing the incidence of deaths caused by heart attack or stroke.

This is yet another area where we have a lot to learn from our neighbor to the east.

Apart from having a higher penetration of AEDs in public facilities — Japan is already the world’s largest possessor of AEDs — Japanese companies tend to be highly cooperative in helping to spread information related to emergency aid.

For instance, Allm Inc, a healthcare consortium behind Nippon AED Map, a mobile application showing AED location information across Japan, set aside 5.81 million yen (US$52,980) of its 2019 fiscal year budget for public education and information disclosure.

Similar organizations with similar drives abound.

In a sign suggestive of the dense AED network Japan has weaved together, one needs only to walk for a few minutes to come upon an AED in areas surrounding the Tokyo Railway Station.

While the lack of AEDs in Shanghai can be overcome with a bigger budget, the shortfall in public knowledge of resuscitation skills may be plugged through a more ingenious approach.

I once saw a picture in my WeChat Moments showing travelers standing before what looks like a vending machine and pushing down on a cushion-like device at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Seen from afar, these people could be mistaken for playing whack-a-mole. But they were in fact practicing cardiopulmonary resuscitation as they waited for their flight.

We apparently need more equipment like these to enhance public consciousness in a subtle and entertaining way.

Of course, at the end of the day, elevated public awareness is down to the key question inside people’s minds: Do we really care or not?


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