Sacrificing Public Health for Profit: Lead Poisoning in China

Over the past week, reports have emerged about pervasive lead poisoning in China and allegations of a cover-up and intimidation by the Chinese government.  The New York Times had a prominent article this week and Human Rights Watch has released a 75-page report .  Of course, we’re talking about a regime that already drastically represses the rights of its citizens and puts economic growth over the well-being of its citizenry.  In this case, poor controls at and regulation of battery factories have led to thousands of people being poisoned with lead, including children.  Beyond that, the Chinese government has limited and/or denied screening and treatment for people with lead poisoning, as both the NYT and HRW have reported.  In some cases, government officials and health workers recommended that children be given foods, like milk and garlic, to combat lead poisoning.  That evokes echoes, for me (I realize I bring this up a lot, but I work in the HIV/AIDS sector and live in South Africa), of Mbeki-era South Africa and health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s recommendations that AIDS patients should eat garlic and lemons rather than access antiretroviral treatment . Of course, there’s a long history of governments ignoring, covering up, and failing to put safeguards in place to prevent massive public health problems.  The US government hasn’t had a great record on HIV/AIDS in the past, for example, though there was an encouraging Atlantic article a few weeks ago that recalled the efforts of a few members of Congress to confront the emerging epidemic .  And China is no stranger to cover-ups, as HRW points out, citing the SARS epidemic and plasma and platelet programs in the early 1990s that did not have adequate safeguards to screen for HIV, causing tens of thousands of infections.  The contaminated milk scandal is a high-profile recent example.

Read this article:
Sacrificing Public Health for Profit: Lead Poisoning in China