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Parents of sick kids reject China’s payout plan

/ Source: The Associated Press

The mother from Hangzhou doesn’t let her daughter have any dairy now and worries that her baby’s cries signal pain from kidney stones.

Like thousands of parents in China, Yu Lufang has a child who got sick from drinking formula tainted with an industrial chemical. Most youngsters recovered, but the anger remains.

Hundreds of affected parents, including Yu, have banded together to reject a government compensation plan they say was drawn up without their input and doesn’t cover enough victims.

The government and Chinese dairy companies had hoped the nationwide scheme would ease tensions over the scandal. Instead, it has given embittered and geographically scattered parents a common cause.

The Health Ministry says 296,000 babies were sickened with kidney stones and other problems after consuming milk powder tainted with melamine, a chemical usually used to make plastics and fertilizers. When ingested in large amounts, it can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

Six deaths have been linked to the contamination.

Changes demanded

Zhao Lianhai, whose 3-year-old son was sickened by melamine and who was an organizer of the campaign, said Tuesday his group has gathered signatures from more than 200 parents nationwide on a letter demanding changes to the government payout scheme.

The government’s plan calls for families whose children died to receive 200,000 yuan ($29,000), while others would receive 30,000 yuan ($4,380) for serious cases of kidney stones and 2,000 yuan ($290) for less severe cases.

Other demands include free medical treatment for babies still recovering, and the lifting of an age limit of three for children eligible for free treatment.

Zhao, whose son has recovered, said the group will continue to gather signatures until Thursday and then submit its letter to the Health Ministry and China’s Dairy Industry Association.

Parents from provinces in the far south and in the northeast, as well as from cities like Beijing and Shanghai already have signed.

“As consumers, we suffered great injury, and the expenses and all the losses incurred in the process of getting treatment for our sick children should be paid for by the manufacturing companies,” it reads.

Trust breached

The letter is the latest confrontation between affected families and the government over the tainted formula.

Many parents feel the government breached their trust in certifying milk powder as safe that later led to illnesses or deaths.

Then the 36-year-old mother saw the news about the tainted formula on TV and rushed 1-year-old Yu An to a hospital where an ultrasound showed stones in each kidney. The baby repeatedly was given IV fluids, but was not hospitalized for lack of space. Doctors advised Yu to give her daughter more water.

“Now we let her eat only rice and drink water. I don’t allow the child to have any dairy products. It has already cast a shadow on us,” Yu said.

She said she still worries about possible lingering health problems even though her daughter, an only child, seems much better.

“Now she is playing again and she eats well. But she still can’t talk so I don’t know if she’s in pain or not,” Yu said.

Hangzhou authorities told Yu the dairies were offering her 2,000 yuan ($294) for compensation, but she said she turned it down because she wanted her concerns about the future to be addressed.

The government has offered payouts to defuse public anger that it fears could spark unrest. Zhao was detained by Beijing police Jan. 1 apparently to prevent him and other parents from holding a news conference to complain about the proposed compensation scheme. He and four other parents were released after a day.

Three of the signatories are parents whose children died from tainted milk, Zhao said, but it was not clear if their babies are included in the official count.

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed list of questions, and calls to the dairy association rang unanswered.