The WHO’s Southern health emergency committee is under fire from a UN human rights group for the fact that the department of public health in China has removed information from its website that sets out the horrors of the country’s toxic coal dust, raising suspicions that it is more concerned about protecting the feelings of the government than protecting the lives of its citizens.
“There are thousands of people dying every year from coal dust diseases,” says Peter Bradwell, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in New York. “They kill mostly children. Yet the WHO’s silence tells a rather hollow story.”
It is a sentiment that hospital doctors in China are also sharing with the world. They report that there is not a single specialist in the country equipped to diagnose coal dust diseases. They say that government doctors visit their hospitals only once a year to prescribe expensive antiviral medications. In the rest of the year they do not visit, often because the government refuses to allocate public resources for coal dust patients. That is one of the reasons why some doctors have resorted to sending SOS messages to those in power through the foreign media.
“Chinese people cannot have any hope at all until the coal dust problem is solved,” said a doctor from a children’s hospital in Guangzhou who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Red Cross of China says that there are three million to four million coal miners in the country, representing 90% of all mine workers, but only 1,000 to 2,000 of them suffer from coal dust diseases. The government has set up a coal dust control committee, but nobody knows how much it has spent to prevent the deaths of millions of children, such as 12,000 who die every year, according to health ministry figures.
The coal dust problem is not just the Chinese Government’s fault. One of the ironies of China’s situation is that most of the coal mine owners are Chinese men, who with some help from their American counterparts and coal companies spread a relatively small amount of coal dust on the ground. Thus, when the dust gets too big a problem for ordinary citizens, it comes down on the heads of the Chinese miners.