Chinese Group Extends Health Insurance Coverage to Sichuan Orphans

02/09/2011 - A group in China, supported by private donors and the government, is providing orphans in Sichuan province with health insurance. Some of the children lost their parents in the earthquake that struck the region three years ago.

The China Children’s and Teenager’s Fund (CCTF) has renewed health insurance coverage for 42,000 orphaned children living in China's the Sichuan province. The insurance covers 12 major illnesses, including transplants, acute kidney failure, acute hepatitis, malignant tumours and infantile paralysis.

Most of the children had previously received the insurance, and the new coverage took effect on September 1st. To date, the CCTF has provided insurance to 440,000 orphans and impoverished children in 19 provinces, including the region of Tibet. Several children have been able to undergo treatment as a result of the insurance.

Provincial governments, private corporations and individual philanthropists have all donated to the fund. According to Dr. Heidi Hu, the CCTF's China Children Insurance Fund managing director, the donation-fuelled insurance fund will be accessible for a year, starting yesterday. For a yearly premium of 50 yuan, each child is insured for 100,000 yuan (about US$15, 474).

"It's the second year that we have been able to offer insurance to registered orphans in Sichuan, including those whose parents passed away in the devastating quake three years ago," she said.

The effects of disasters can far outlast the initial catastrophic event. According to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) China, in the months following any type of disaster, there is usually in increase in the number of unaccompanied children due to "secondary separations."  Secondary separations result from family breakdown, which is usually a response to challenges in rebuilding livelihoods, or the inability to access basic needs and relief services. Children are sometimes urged to – or may voluntarily – leave their families to look for better opportunities or to help relieve household socio-economic stress.

According to UNICEF's May 2010 Sichuan Earthquake: Two Year Report, the May 2008 earthquake killed 88,000 people, injured 400,000 and left 5 million homeless in the southwestern Chinese province. The quake struck areas that were overwhelmingly poor, where health and nutrition among children were already below the national average even before the disaster struck.

The report notes that since the earthquake, the Ministry of Civil Affair has confirmed that 634 children were orphaned in the quake, 78 per cent of whom have been placed with extended family.

The CCTF's programme was jointly launched in 2009 with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in order to give free medical coverage to 712,000 orphans.