Survivors of the Kunshan disaster face grim future

13 August 2014

Within days of the massive explosion that killed at least 75 factory workers and injured 185 others in Kunshan on 2 August, news of the tragedy began to dry up.  Once the government’s efforts to rescue and care for the accident victims had been reported, and the cause of the explosion had been identified, the official Chinese media stopped basically reporting.

One reason for the media blackout might be the bleak prognosis for many of the survivors of the explosion. It seems that if there is no good news to report, no news will be reported.  A nurse treating three of the burn victims in an intensive care unit told us that at two of them are unlikely to survive.

Two of them suffer from third-degree burns over 95 per cent of their bodies and are still on respirators. They are in a very serious condition. Unfortunately, based on our experience, they probably won’t make it. They are being kept alive by medication and machines. Their vital signs will drop like a rock.

Even if by some miracle they do survive, she said, they will face a life-long ordeal of many skin grafts and countless complications, such as kidney failure, resulting from their injuries.

The nurse, who we shall call Ye Ying, said of her third patient, who suffers from burns on 70 percent of their body:  “We are not too optimistic. The condition of burn patients can be very volatile and unpredictable.”

Despite the gloomy prognosis, Ye Ying says, the local government is making every effort to keep the victims alive. Green channels have been opened and medical teams work around the clock in three shifts using the best medicines and equipment available. The total cost of treating just one severely burned patient could be as much as two million yuan, she said.

However, the motivation of the government might not be entirely humanitarian.

Ye Ying said that hospital management had issued an order that “no one dies before 26th August.”

Many people figure this is because the upcoming 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games [scheduled from 16 to 28 August] will attract a lot of media attention and the local government doesn’t want to be in the spotlight for the wrong reason.

She also noted that: “There are unwritten rules for calculating how many casualties are caused by a single event. People who die a certain number of days after the event are not classified as victims of that event.”

To back up Ye Ying’s assertion about time limits, provisions in China’s Work-related Injury Insurance Regulations state that in cases where an employee suffers from a sudden illness at work, such as a heart-attack or stroke, that illness will only be classified as work-related if the victim dies within 48 hours of its onset.

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