The Putian connection

BEIJING • The experimental 200,000 yuan (S$41,600) cancer treatment which the late Wei Zexi received has been traced back to a network of private healthcare providers that originated in Putian.

The Sixth Tone website reported that the Biological Treatment Centre of the military hospital where Mr Wei received immunotherapy was run by a Putian-linked business until a few months ago.

The supplier of the treatment technology is Shanghai Claison, which was linked to a Putian businessman.

The Putian network of private healthcare providers reportedly owns 8,600 member hospitals, about 80 per cent of all private hospitals in China.

Putian's story began nearly 40 years ago, when barefoot doctor Chen Deliang took a folk remedy for skin disease and grew it into a small business in Fujian province.

In the 1990s, Mr Chen, together with several partners, branched out from skin diseases and began to market treatments for sexually transmitted diseases. Operating out of budget hotels, they advertised by placing ads on telephone poles and in public toilets, according to Sixth Tone.

Then, when China's military turned to its network of hospitals to boost its revenues in the 1980s, the Putian medical businessmen inked agreements with the military in exchange for rights to operate certain departments within the army- run hospitals.

Before long they began operating their own hospitals, and Mr Chen and his associates have spawned a vast network of businesses intertwined with China's healthcare system, said Sixth Tone.

Putian-run hospitals and clinics, according to Sixth Tone, have a reputation for pushing treatments on patients who do not need them.

Mr Chen told Sixth Tone in an interview it was common for doctors in these Putian- run private hospitals to overprescribe drugs in exchange for financial incentives.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'The Putian connection'. Print Edition | Subscribe