By Yao Jianru
“This (pneumoconiosis) is a social problem,” said Dr. Li of the Pulmonary Department of Pingxiang Chinese Medicine Hospital.
Pneumoconiosis is a disease caused by long-term inhalation of large amounts of dust during intensive labor production. Due to the abundant coal reserves in Pingxiang City, Jiangxi Province, many workers used to work in coal mines but did not take prevention. Therefore, long-term exposure to dust-related work environments has caused many workers to suffer from pneumoconiosis.
However, pneumoconiosis is an incurable disease, so medical expenses are likely to become unavoidable in their future lives. For pneumoconiosis patients and their families, this is like a bottomless pit.
Uncle Li, the patient, also said: “(Once this disease is diagnosed, the family’s) financial burden will be very heavy.”
Financial Pressure on Pneumoconiosis Families
“It will cost him 4,000 yuan to be hospitalized… This bottle of medicine will cost 290 yuan,” said a volunteer from LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS (a non-profit organization for pneumoconiosis).
After being reimbursed by medical insurance, pneumoconiosis patients still need to pay hundreds of yuan in medical expenses every month. And suppose the patient is seriously ill and needs to be hospitalized. In that case, hospitalization costs several thousand yuan, and the frequency of hospitalization of three or four times a year is not uncommon.
The patient, Uncle Xu, said that in Lianhua County, Pingxiang City, a patient he knew was hospitalized 14 times a year, which brought severe financial pressure to the family.
The cost of these treatments is already a huge expense for ordinary urban office workers. However, the economic income of pneumoconiosis families is far lower than that of white-collar workers.
Pneumoconiosis can cause various symptoms such as breathing difficulties, making patients out of labor, so they often stop working after diagnosis. Therefore, the important task of solving the family’s source of income must be borne by the wife or the children: the wife usually stays in the village to work, while the children often go out to work. Unfortunately, no matter which option they choose, they may be limited by their low educational level (most of them graduated from middle and high school), so it is not easy for most family members with pneumoconiosis to make money.
Ms Ye, a volunteer from LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS, also said, “There is no stable job in the countryside.” If they want to take care of patients at home, the wives can only do temporary jobs in the village, and their income will not be stable.
Patient Ying said: “My wife works in a nearby electronics factory. She hasn’t done much in the past year because there’s nothing to do.” Patient Ouyang also said that her wife has a temporary job in a small restaurant and only works when she has work to do.
Although the children of the patients can find stable jobs in other places, most of them do not have a high income. It is difficult for them to leave too much money for their parents while supporting their own living. Even if all family members of patients live frugally, their incomes still struggle to cover ongoing medical bills.
To relieve the economic pressure, some pneumoconiosis families choose to start their own businesses to bring more income to their families.
In Shangli County, Pingxiang City, there is a shepherd who is famous for his sheep that do not eat forage and only eat grass. Every winter, the sheep he raises are scrambled to order, often not enough to sell. He is Uncle Xu, a pneumoconiosis patient.
In 2008, Uncle Xu, who was in his fifties, stopped working after being diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. Because he once worked in a private coal mine, he has no labor contract and no work-related injury insurance. Uncle Xu, without income, applied to LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS for about 10,000 yuan of medical assistance, but after three hospitalizations, he ran out of funds and had to start looking for other ways to make money.
Since Uncle Xu has experience in raising sheep, he and his family have been raising sheep since 2013 to make a living.
Ms Ye, a volunteer from LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS, said that compared with planting, agriculture requires higher skills, physical strength, and costs.
Uncle Xu’s family can raise about twenty sheep a year. In a year, it can bring about 20,000 yuan of income to the family.
Similarly, Uncle Ying, another patient in Shangli County, is also trying to relieve the family’s financial pressure through planting.
After seeing the live broadcast of planting Holboellia latifolia Wall (also known as “August melons” in China) on Tik Tok, Uncle Ying was inspired. In 2020, Uncle Ying officially started the process of planting “August melons”.
At first, due to inexperience, Uncle Ying had to ask the seller of melon seedlings on WeChat about how to grow this plant. He works alone in the 15-acre orchard all year round, often working from 6 am to 8 pm, and needs to change six sets of clothes due to sweat. Last year, one mu (a Chinese unit) of “August melon” fields could yield about 400 kilograms of melons.
Uncle Ying said that many people learned about the melons he planted through the Internet, and they came to his farm to buy or order them directly through the Internet. “Last year, I sold 70%-80% of all,” said Uncle Ying.
At present, Uncle Ying has also begun to try to grow a new seedless “August melon”. With the maturity of planting skills, Uncle Ying believes that “(the yield will) exceed 500 kilograms of products from one-mu of land.”
However, this approach also has certain limitations. Although Xu the shepherd, and Ying the fruit farmer, can earn more than 20,000 yuan a year , they have to face many difficulties and costs.
First, the high investment cost in the early stage of business will limit the determination of the patient’s family to start given the high risks behind.
Due to the low and unstable income of the patient’s family, even if they want to start their own business, they cannot come up with enough money, and they will consider investment risks more carefully.
Uncle Ying, a fruit farmer, invested about 200,000 yuan in the early stage, and borrowed a lot of money from relatives and friends. And now, a large portion of the cost is still unrecovered, and the debt cannot be repaid.
At the same time, entrepreneurship has high demands on the time and strength of pneumoconiosis patients and their family members.
Volunteer Wu said, ” (They)can’t do heavy work… heavy work requires physical strength; when you lift something too heavy, the alveoli are prone to rupture.” Without the time and energy, it is difficult for pneumoconiosis family to start a business .
Shepherd Xu is in poor health conditions and needs to rely on an oxygenerator for most of the day. Therefore, the work of raising sheep mainly depends on his wife, and his nephew sometimes comes to help. However, due to the physical condition and the number of family members, the scale of Uncle Xu’s sheep farming is also limited.
Ms. Ye said, “They are not worried about selling, but because of his poor health and that only his wife and nephew at home to help, (the business) can’t grow.”
In addition to individual entrepreneurship, non-profit organizations are also actively exploring new ways of economic assistance.
LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping pneumoconiosis patients and is committed to promoting the prevention and ultimate elimination of pneumoconiosis. Their targeted patients cover the whole country. Xingjian Volunteer Association, a local NGO in Pingxiang, has undertaken the rescue work of LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS for pneumoconiosis patients here.
“Helping mothers in pneumoconiosis families to support their families” is an ongoing project of LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS. LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS provides startup funds for suitable mothers in pneumoconiosis families to bring sustainable economic income to their families.
Xingjian Volunteer Association also launched a project called “Mothers in Pneumoconiosis Family Support Group”. In the project, social workers provide psychological assistance for the mothers of pneumoconiosis families to help them strengthen their confidence in family life and future expectations.
At present, LOVE SAVE PNEUMOCONIOSIS and Xingjian are also exploring a new entrepreneurial model based on these two projects, that is, in the form of “cooperatives”, mothers can start businesses together.
In Lianhua County, volunteers selected five neighboring pneumoconiosis families and gave each family 12,000 yuan as project funds to let five mothers rent ten mu of land to grow crops.
Compared with individual entrepreneurial projects, “rural cooperatives” is a new attempt. This method can reduce the pressure on ‘pneumoconiosis mothers’ to juggle family and work at the same time. ‘Pneumoconiosis Mothers’ can go home to care for the patients in emergencies without worrying about losing their jobs.
“There are five people now. If I get sick today (she wants to take care of me), she can leave the remaining four to do (the farm work).” Uncle He said that they all do this together. Regardless of when or where the emergency happens, the rest of the people can take care of each other.
After discussing with each other, they decided to grow rapeseed and sesame which they are good at. Uncle He said, “Women are good at growing the rapeseed and sesame seeds, and for now, they grow what they are good at the beginning.”
At the same time, Xingjian also hired agricultural experts as technical consultants to provide technical support for the production of agricultural products and teach the mothers how to cultivate organically.
This cooperation model also requires a clear division of labor among these mothers. The five mothers perform their respective duties: accounting, cashier, buyer, vice team leader, and team leader respectively.
“(As long as) several people are united. “
In addition, Xingjian also connected a base to ensure the sales of crops.
“I connected with a base that makes pollution-free organic food. When the products come out, I only sell them to this company. Our products are organic, the safety is ensured. At the same time, you must ensure the basic income of our farmers.” President Xiao of Xingjian said.
Volunteer Li also said that “rural cooperatives” will bring a more sustainable and stable income. “This project is like ‘we (raise hen that) lay eggs, we have them today, we have them tomorrow’ — ‘finish (the project) this year, and we will stay (the cost to continue)’.”
At present, economic assistance has become one of the main ways to relieve the economic pressure on pneumoconiosis families. Although there have not been many cases of “rural cooperatives”, in the future, with the exploration of non-profit organizations and the participation of more pneumoconiosis families, it is hoped that these methods can help them more effectively relieve their economic pressure.
As the very optimistic Uncle Xu said, “(Hopefully) let more people know, and more and more people will be able to participate slowly.”