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Red Cross under fire over aid allocation

By LI LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-02-03 07:02
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Charity apologizes for mismanagement of distribution of much-awaited supply

Normally, charities crave public donations as funding sustains their operations.

But over the past few weeks as billions of yuan in aid have poured into Wuhan, Hubei province-the center of the novel coronavirus outbreakan established charity has scrambled to manage the relief materials.

On Saturday, the Red Cross Society of China's branch in Wuhan-a designated charity responsible for handling the influx of aid-issued an apology, acknowledging that it had mismanaged the allocation of face masks and other protective gear.

The materials were among large volumes of aid coming in to relieve the shortage of medical supplies in Wuhan, where 4,109 confirmed novel coronavirus cases have been reported as of Saturday.

Netizens were outraged after finding that continuous donations from across the nation failed to ease the deficit.

The shortage has prompted a number of hospitals treating coronavirus patients in Wuhan to seek donations on social media platforms. Many said they were in desperate need of the most basic protections against the contagious pathogen.

The anger fermented after some noticed that the local Red Cross had allocated only 3,000 surgical masks to Wuhan Union Hospital of China, a major battleground for the outbreak with more than 2,000 staff members.

In comparison, two other hospitals that are much smaller and treat no confirmed novel coronavirus cases each received six times as many surgical masks.

Many have accused the nonprofit of unfair treatment, but it said the masks given to the two smaller hospitals are model KN95, which is good for everyday protection of the public but not enough for medical requirements.

In its apology on Saturday, the Wuhan Red Cross said it had convened an emergency meeting overnight to discuss internal problems and pledged to hold accountable those directly in charge of the relief distribution.

The Wuhan Red Cross was among five government-backed charities that were designated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs to handle donations from outside the province, and the provincial government dictates the allocation of non-targeted donations in an effort to avoid disorder.

Under pressure, the Wuhan Red Cross clarified that donors can bypass it and deliver the supplies directly to preferred hospitals.

The Hubei provincial Red Cross previously lamented that the outbreak caught it unprepared. There were only two staff members responsible for tallying the huge influx of materials, an unnamed Red Cross official told China Philanthropist magazine on Saturday.

To fix the problems, the Red Cross Society of China sent a working team to Wuhan to guide and supervise its local branches to better handle donated goods.

Moreover, authorities in Wuhan said they have moved to add manpower to handle the sea of donations, the Economic Observer reported on Saturday. Professionals from the local statistics bureau, logistics companies and drugmakers have been enlisted to assist the charity, the newspaper said.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has been testing not only emergency responders, but civic-minded groups as well, according to Gu Yan, a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission's Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a Beijing think tank on public policies.

Deng Guosheng, deputy director of the Institute for Philanthropy of Tsinghua University, said the decision to let five government-backed charities handle nationwide donations was in itself problematic as it has strained the understaffed organizations and excluded other vibrant civic-minded groups from partaking in the relief work.

"The mammoth workload also made it impossible for the five organizations to allocate supply in accordance with donors' wishes, a crucial principle in fundraising," he said.

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