Fake milk powder victims launches lawsuit
Han Aoqiang, aged 11-month-olds, has no idea what difficulties he will face in his future life.
Han is one of the victims of the fake milk powder scandal in Fuyang, East China's Anhui Province.
Though he is now out of danger, he may still suffer liver damage and other serious side effects.
Having endured tremendous sorrow, his family, ordinary rural residents in Taihe County of Fuyang, feel a heavy financial pinch due to the huge cost of his medical treatments.
And now they have to undergo a difficult lawsuit to claim compensation.
In the tragedy, which was exposed to the public in April and shocked the whole nation, a total of 12 infants died of malnutrition after being fed substandard milk powder.
Another 229 babies were found suffering nutritional deficiencies to different degrees, according to Xinhua News Agency.
"You cannot imagine what kind of pain the baby is suffering," said Gao Zheng, Han Aoqiang's uncle.
It is still a nightmare for the family to recall the days when Aoqiang was almost dying.
The baby was born healthy in August 2003, weighing about 3.5 kilograms. When his mother got a serious fever about 10 days after his birth, the family thought her breast milk was not safe for the infant. They began to feed the baby with instant milk.
Because of their financial situation, the young parents, both farmers, chose a low-cost brand, costing about 10 yuan (US$1.20) per bag, to feed the baby every day.
About one month later the baby developed continual high fever, diarrhea and edema. The parents took him to a hospital in the town where they live, but the doctors felt helpless about his symptoms.
Then the baby was taken to the Fuyang Municipal People's Hospital and then Taihe Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, where the doctors said he had severe malnutrition due to the fake milk powder.
At that time the infant was only 4.5 kilograms, swollen in the face, with an abnormally large head and short extremities. His liver was swollen to five or six times normal size.
The baby was so small that he could only receive injections in his head.
"His head then was full of punctures, even the nurse had to try several times when treating him intravenously," said Gao.
During the baby's stay in the hospital, the doctors issued three "terminally ill" notices. Nobody had any confidence the baby could be saved.
What's worse, it was learned that some other infants who were receiving medical treatment died due to the same illness.
During those terrible days, the family spent all their savings on the baby's treatment. Relatives took turns caring for him around the clock.
"Aoqiang is a lucky baby to have escaped from death," Gao said."But such pain he underwent is hardly sustainable for an adult, let alone a new-born baby.
"Nobody would have thought that the milk powder in the delicate package was fake," Gao said with indignation.
Upon the advice of local doctors, Gao took the milk powder to the Fuyang Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to test its quality. The result showed the product's protein content was only 6.69 per cent, much lower than the national standard.
According to local doctors, some other shoddy milk powders not only have much less protein, but have too many bacillus and ferrum content. Long-term use of them will lead to malnutrition and damage to the infant's heart, liver and kidney, which will then cause other problems.
Killer milk powder
Furthermore, the low price of these milk powders was another factor that attracts low-income rural consumers. That is why most victims were found in poor rural areas.
Soon after the incident was exposed, some other brands of such bad milk powders were discovered in other cities. Hundreds of families are suffering from the same pain as Han's family.
Dozens of suspects have recently been arrested by police in the nationwide combat against the fake milk powder.
Some local officials involved in the cases were punished for their malfeasance.
Aoqiang's life was saved. When he was released from the hospital in March the doctors suggested his parents seek better examination and treatment for the baby's damaged liver at better-equipped city hospitals.
But the family spent all their savings on the baby's rescue. They cannot afford further medical treatment although they have gotten some allowance from local government.
The baby now has to be attended at home.
While the family is bearing the double pressure emotionally and financially, the baby's uncle Gao has launched an arduous campaign to claim compensation.
"I had not expected such a tough job of seeking the compensation," Gao said.
Gao firstly lodged a complaint against the retailers with the county's Consumers' Association in December last year.
The retailers admitted selling the fake milk powders. However, they refused to pay the family as much as requested.
Until now the family hasn't got even a cent from the retailers. At last, they had no choice but to go to court.
"Frankly speaking, we would rather spend the money on the baby's treatment, not the lawsuit," said Gao.
The Fuyang Intermediate People's Court accepted the case at the end of last month. The court is simultaneously dealing with some other fake milk cases, according to Guo Yang, the judge responsible for Han's case.
"These cases are fairly complicated," Guo said.
In the indictment of Han's case, seven defendants including the milk powder's producer, wholesaler and retailers are asked to pay a total compensation of about 250,000 yuan (US$30,000).
The compensation includes the baby's medical treatment expenses and the damages for the family's emotional trauma.
"I have some concerns about this lawsuit," said Kong Weizhao, a lawyer with the Protection of Minors Committee under the All China Lawyers Association, who is appointed by the committee to offer legal aid to the victim families in Fuyang.
Claim for compensation
At present there has not been any medical appraisal to determine long-term damage to the baby, making it difficult for the court to fix the future loss to the child and his family, Kong said.
Han's family and the lawyer hope the court can designate a medical institute to have a comprehensive examination for Aoqiang after the lawsuit, so that they can have another appeal with the medical evidence to claim further compensation for the future loss.
So far the court hasn't given any comment on this, according to Kong.
"What's more, it remains a problem if the ruling can be successfully implemented even if it has been made," he added.
Kong noted that like Han's family, others are facing the same difficulties because they do not know what kind of problems and suffering their babies will face in the future.
And many of them also worry about whether they can get the compensation after spending so much time and effort.
Over the past half year Gao was busy running from the hospitals to the Consumers' Association and other related units, leaving his own work deserted.
"The materials Gao has collected are piled up about half a metre high," Kong said.
But Gao didn't have any income during those days, and the whole family fall into dire financial straights.
"The victim family has been burdened with too much mental and financial pressure from their babies' illness and the compensation lawsuit. That is unfair for them," Kong said.
According to Guo, the court is investigating and collecting evidence for the case. It will probably be heard next month.
Gao said the family hopes they can successfully get the compensation to provide the baby with better medical examination and treatment.
"These babies are still too little. The hurt they have undergone will have lifelong consequences and they are set to meet great difficulties in their future life," Kong said.
"I hope the public will pay continuous attention to their growth and help them and their families go out of the difficult situations."