Yan Huiying speaks at a seminar held by Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a Beijing-based nongovernmental organization, on assisting rural workers with pneumoconiosis in Beijing on March 1 (COURTESY PHOTO)
"Rural workers suffering from pneumoconiosis should get more attention. They should not be left behind in China's social progress," Yan Huiying, a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said at a forum prior to the session of the CPPCC National Committee, the top advisory body, which began on March 4.
Pneumoconiosis is a form of progressive, incurable lung disease resulting from long-time exposure to dust produced in industrial environments. Yan has been caring for the welfare of pneumoconiosis sufferers for nine consecutive years. At the session of the CPPCC National Committee this year, she has proposed to have occupational health incorporated into China's national credit system for enterprises. She is also calling for revisions to the national occupational disease prevention law to further protect the rights and interests of workers.
In pneumoconiosis patients, long-term exposure to harmful dust particles causes fibrosis in lung tissue. This leads to severe impairment of the breathing system, and timely treatment is key preventing the progression of the illness.
Yan first learnt about the plight of many rural workers being tortured by the disease at a seminar held by Beijing-based nongovernmental organization Love Save Pneumoconiosis in 2014. Since then, Yan has been dedicated to formulating and delivering proposals on providing medical insurance for rural workers suffering from pneumoconiosis, urging enterprises and factories where employees are exposed to dusts to improve their working environments, and enhancing public awareness of the prevention of the disease.
Yan's proposals are based on consultation not only with the sufferers themselves, but also with the medical teams who treat them and with researchers in relevant fields. Through years of field surveys and exchanges with medical experts, she has gained a comprehensive understanding of pneumoconiosis, and continued to ameliorate the quality of her proposals every year.
Public attention on pneumoconiosis patients is improving. Over the past decade, the Chinese Government has introduced over 30 major policies on pneumoconiosis and migrant workers. In 2019, China's authorities issued an action plan on the prevention and treatment of pneumoconiosis, setting aside nearly 200 million yuan ($31.6 million) in 2020 for establishing around 300 rehabilitation stations across the country.
In late December, the National Health Commission, together with other 16 governmental departments, issued a plan for the prevention and control of occupational diseases from 2021 to 2025. Under the plan, workers in high-risk industries for occupational diseases including pneumoconiosis will be covered by work-related injury insurance, while households of eligible patients suffering from those serious occupational diseases will receive a basic living allowance.
Efforts are also urged to increase screening for the illnesses among at-risk groups, and to improve treatment and assistance for occupational diseases sufferers, the plan said.
According to Yan, the efforts of the government and social organizations have improved the situation for sufferers of pneumoconiosis. However, many of her previous proposals have not yet been adopted and difficult issues remain unresolved.
"To deter enterprises from violating the law, those harming workers' health without paying work-related injury insurance or offering compensation should be held criminally accountable," Yan said.
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
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