Shanghai patients crowdsource medical help during Covid-19 lockdown

Uncertainty about access to medical facilities persists despite a tentative easing of lockdown in some parts of Shanghai. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Shanghai residents have turned online for grassroots help on medical treatment as the city's tough Covid-19 curbs limit access to healthcare and fuel frustration and anxiety.

While the city of 25 million has used lockdowns and extensive testing to fight the disease, those suffering from other medical conditions are posting requests for help in mutual-help platforms and social media chat groups.

One woman said she sought help online as her worry grew over the risk of infection to her paralysed mother from a urinary catheter used for about a month.

"Typically, replacing the catheter would take 10 minutes, but the nearby hospital that we usually go to is now sealed up," said the woman, who wanted to be identified by her surname Zhou.

Zhou said about five hospitals had turned her away as their departments that perform the procedure had suspended operations.

Even when treatment is available, some patients say they have been unable to access transport or get permission to leave residential compounds.

It is also tough to find accurate information on the services each hospital offers, others told Reuters.

While the government of China's commercial capital urged hospitals in March to ensure "green channels" for non-Covid patients with urgent needs, such as dialysis or cancer therapy, many have still struggled to access care.

Volunteers have stepped in to help.

One, who uses the name Amy, said a patient received detailed instructions on how to navigate a bureaucratic thicket to cross the Huangpu river, which divides Shanghai, and get hospital treatment on the other side.

A spreadsheet, created by university students, has drawn about 1,600 requests for help, but a recent drop to about 50 new daily requests, from roughly 200 a week ago, suggests access is improving, the spreadsheet's creator said on condition of anonymity as Covid is a sensitive subject in China.

However, uncertainty about access to medical facilities persists despite a tentative easing of lockdown in some parts of Shanghai. Authorities have said curbs would be reimposed if new infections emerge.

A health official warned that for the next few days infections will remain high.

While China, ruled by the Communist Party, has an uneasy relationship with civil society groups working outside official channels, authorities do not appear to have interfered with efforts to help with health care access in the Shanghai outbreak.

Informal networks have stepped up previously, for example offering online help to find antiviral medications in the central city of Wuhan, early in the 2020 Covid outbreak.

Asked for a comment on recent such activities, the Shanghai government responded by sharing an article on initiatives to support Covid controls by the city's largest volunteer group, backed by the Communist Party and founded in 1997.

It made no further comment.

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While Zhou's mother's situation has not been resolved yet, and many medical resources are beyond the reach of grassroots platforms, going online has aided some people.

A man, surnamed Pei, who was struggling to get cancer medicine for his father, said a volunteer added him to a chatroom that showed which pharmacy was able to supply the medicine, after which members in the chatroom helped deliver it across the Huangpu river.

"It is very helpful," Pei said.

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