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    Chinese Artist Nut Brother Crowdfunds Medicine for Rural Elderly

    A short supply of medicine amid a rise in COVID infections has left many scrambling for essential drugs.

    One of China’s best-known activist artists is pleading with people to donate money and medicine to the country’s rural areas which are facing an explosion of COVID-19 infections and — unlike bigger cities — may not be well-equipped to manage the outbreak.

    Commonly referred to by his alias Nut Brother, the 41-year-old artist told Sixth Tone that he first thought of the idea last Wednesday, a week after China suddenly removed many of its strict restrictions used to keep the coronavirus at bay. On Thursday, he made a plea on social platform WeChat in the hope of gathering anti-fever medicine for older residents in non-urban areas.

    “I want to do as much as I can to help those in need,” said Nut Brother, who first grabbed national and international attention in 2015 by vacuuming Beijing’s polluted air to raise awareness on the smog choking millions of residents. He has since used his art installation projects to shed spotlight on environmental and education issues, among others.

    China is currently witnessing a massive surge in COVID infections, two weeks into the loosening of its policy which ended mass testing and lockdowns. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large number of people have been catching the virus on a daily basis, and pharmacies have been running out of common anti-cold and fever medicine such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

    Such shortages are particularly pronounced in rural areas, with many social media users slamming urbanites for grabbing their much-needed stock last week, and the government has promised to improve the reach of health care. Nut Brother said that he planned to collect 5,000 boxes of anti-fever medicine and distribute them to 2,500 people over the age of 60 in Xiaohaotu, northwestern Shaanxi province.

    The artist said he chose Xiaohaotu as he had cooperated with the locals on his previous project about water pollution, but plans to expand to other places after assessing the situation.

    “Given the fact that the medication shortage is a widespread problem across the nation, the elderly in rural areas are in a more difficult situation compared to those in urban areas, because they don’t have as much access to the internet to ask for help and they are more reluctant to go to hospital,” said Nut Brother.

    China is home to about 260 million people over the age of 60, who are vulnerable to the virus, and a quarter of the population in rural areas falls in that demographic. Some 25 million in that age bracket weren’t vaccinated against COVID as of November, and only 40% of those over the age of 80 had received booster shots, further raising the risk of severe illness from the disease.

    By publication time, Nut Brother’s team had raised over 110,000 yuan ($15,765) in cash, and using the funds to purchase enough medicine for those in need remained a challenge. Nut Brother said he is approaching pharmaceutical companies for help, with one already promising to offer assistance.

    Meanwhile, his friends in Baoding, central Hebei province, have already collected 700 yuan worth of medicine and had sent them to a few older Xiaohaotu residents. He added that he was now receiving some extra medicine from Beijing, as the supply has likely relatively improved.

    “But that’s way less than enough … and now we’re faced with a shortage of delivery workers at the same time, right?” referring to the growing number of sick couriers. “Maybe the best way to help with the situation is to encourage donating and exchanging spare medicine among citizens.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Residents on IV drips at a village clinic in Chongqing, Feb. 8, 2015. IC)