Ignorance, Liability Fears Hinder First Aid in China

2016-07-07 10:37:46

A possibly preventable death in a Beijing subway station late last month highlighted the lack of life-saving skills among both paramedics and the public.

Thirty-four-year-old Jin Bo, deputy editor-in-chief of the popular social network Tianya.cn, died after attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Subway stations in Beijing are not equipped with defibrillators. In Shanghai, only a limited number of stations have them.

Every year in China, more than half a million people die from sudden cardiac arrest, studies show.

Yet official statistics show that less than 1 percent of Chinese know how to perform CPR, with some experts saying the figure is even lower.  

On Wednesday, a nonprofit called “Heart Awakening” opened its doors for the first time, with the aim of spreading knowledge of first aid among the public. The organization was inspired by the death of the journalist — Heart Awakening’s executive director, Deng Fei, was a friend of Jin.

One of Heart Awakening’s goals is to install defibrillators in public spaces across the country, including subway and railway stations, community centers, and airports.

“We recognize the serious threat posed to human life by a lack of emergency rescue systems,” Deng wrote on microblogging platform Weibo.

Li Xiaoguang, an emergency room doctor with Shanghai United Family Hospital, told Sixth Tone that a person’s brain will be irreversibly damaged if they don’t receive proper CPR within five minutes of a heart attack.

An automated external defibrillator is mounted on a wall at the Middle Huahai Road subway station in Shanghai, June 17, 2016. Wang Gang/VCG

An automated external defibrillator is mounted on a wall at the Middle Huahai Road subway station in Shanghai, June 17, 2016. Wang Gang/VCG

Min Ying, a cardiologist at Chinese PLA General Hospital, said that defibrillators are easy to use and effective in emergency situations, adding that efforts to increase the number of defibrillators in public spaces by organizations such as Heart Awakening, although admirable, are not enough, as many Chinese people are afraid of the legal risks of intervening in a medical emergency.

Many in China are reluctant to get involved in emergency situations out of a fear that it could get them in trouble. Such concerns are a result of a series of high-profile news stories and court cases in recent years where good Samaritans wind up being held responsible for victims’ injuries.

Wu Haofeng, founder of the nonprofit Sinoaid Integrated Healthcare Service Shanghai, has organized numerous emergency response workshops, mostly in the Shanghai area. Last year, he said the workshops were attended by 10,000 people.

“The general lack of knowledge in this area is a serious issue,” Wu said. To illustrate his point, Wu cited Japan — where more than 90 percent of middle school students can perform CPR — as a country where first aid knowledge is widespread.

Authorities in Hangzhou, host city for the upcoming G-20 summit, plan to add 600 defibrillators to the 15 currently installed at subway stations, community centers, and airport. They will be installed despite the heavy expense — a typical unit costs 30,000 yuan, or nearly $4,500 — and the fact that existing ones are not being used.

Still, officials there say that a key step to using the equipment is to make them more accessible and to invest in training people how to use them.

In a statement earlier this week to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper, Lu Meili of the Hangzhou Emergency Medical Center said, “We have to increase first aid knowledge among the public while simultaneously providing more equipment.”

This article has been updated to elaborate on liability concerns.

(Header image: BSIP/UIG/VCG)