Doctor Chen Jingyu (right) operates on a pneumoconiosis patient at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing in February. (Zhu Xingxin/China Daily)
Restrictions on the diagnosis of an occupational lung disease that affects Chinese laborers should be relaxed to ensure patients get effective treatment, a State legislator has said ahead of the annual two sessions.
Pneumoconiosis is caused by the inhalation of dust and affects industrial and agricultural workers. Among coal miners, the condition is often called black lung.
China's current regulations state patients who suspect they have the condition must receive a diagnosis from an institute certified to handle occupational diseases, such as a center for disease control, before receiving treatment.
Yet this is inconvenient for those living outside cities and means many people only seek help when they reach the late stages of the illness, according to Chen Jingyu, a deputy to the National People's Congress, the top legislature.[Special coverage]
"I suggest we eliminate this monopoly in diagnosis and treatment of pneumoconiosis," Chen, who is vice-president of Wuxi People's Hospital in Jiangsu province, said this month. "This would mean diagnosis and certification of the disease as an occupational disease are separated, and patients would get a more timely diagnosis and effective treatment."
Wang Chen, president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said the medical community in China is generally in favor of loosening the restrictions on the disease.
"Pneumoconiosis is characterized by pulmonary fibrosis and extreme breathing difficulties, and brings tremendous pain to the patients," explained Wang, who is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body.
"Many patients are the main breadwinners in their family and are still young when they develop the disease," he added. "They are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and deserve our utmost attention."
According to Love Save Pneumoconiosis, an NGO that helps patients with the disease and promotes prevention, nearly 28,000 new cases of the disease were reported in China in 2016, up by more than 1,900 compared with 2015.
The disease accounted for more than 85 percent of all reported diagnoses of occupational illnesses that year.
The majority of people who contract pneumoconiosis in China, an estimated 6 million people, are migrant workers from rural areas, according to the NGO's statistics.
Zhang Haichao from Xinmi, Henan province, devel-oped the disease in 2007 while working at a factory producing fireproof materials. He said that in many cities there is only one institute certified to diagnose the disease.
"Some institutes may also not give an accurate diagnosis due to interference from enterprises that want to avoid paying compensation to employees who develop an occupational disease," he said.
Zhang said at least 90 percent of the migrant workers he has known who have pneumoconiosis are not covered by work injury insurance and have received no compensation from their employers. "Medical bills are their biggest problem now," he said.
Many authorities have increased social security for such groups in recent years, including in Henan province, where in some areas patients with occupational diseases can get a full refund on their medical expenses.
Meng Yanhua, a professor in occupational safety at China University of Labor Relations, said a major problem in prevention and control of occupational diseases is the lack of talent.
"There's no university with a major in occupational health," she said, "and most companies don't know what to do to help employees prevent occupational diseases."