A Neglected Outbreak of TB Is Causing Chinese High School Students to Attempt Suicide

In Hunan Province, scores of students contracted pulmonary tuberculosis as school staff turned blind eye
By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
September 17, 2018 Updated: September 18, 2018

A string of tuberculosis cases at a high school in Hunan Province, southern China, has led to harsh criticism of the school administration and the local authorities following the attempted suicides of three students suffering from the disease.

Just a few days before a female student’s suicide attempt on Sept. 9, a lawyer representing the victims of the outbreak received threats from the legal authorities that they would revoke his license to practice.

The lawyer, Chen Keyun, told NTD Television that the girl, a student attending an elite class of Taojiang County’s No. 4 High School, had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis last August and her academic performance and mental state suffered greatly as a result.

According to Chen, all students in the class are under pressure to maintain their grades and be accepted at good universities. But the girl developed severe perforations in both lungs as well as multiple side effects from the medicine she needs to control the disease. In June, she missed China’s nationwide college entrance exam and was unable to transfer to another high school to continue her studies.

Chen said the girl is the third tuberculosis patient to attempt suicide at the school. All were saved, however, Chen efforts to litigate on their behalf has led the authorities to see him as a nuisance.

“In March, the Guangzhou Lawyers Association issued a tax evasion notice to me to force me to stop my representation,” Chen told NTD Television. “On Sept. 3, the Justice Department of Guangdong Province [which borders Hunan Province] summoned me and said my lawyer’s license would be revoked.”

Chen said he won’t give up because of the urgency of the case. Meanwhile, the local health authorities have not released any information about investigating the outbreak, though two county-level deputy directors of the health agency as well as several other employees have been fired for their negligence.

Outbreak Ignored

Ding Ling, the pseudonym of a female student from the class at the Taojiang No. 4 High School told The Epoch Times that one of her classmates had been coughing in the classroom since June 2016 and that he said, “I feel like I’m going to cough my lungs out.”

In order to keep up his grades, the boy didn’t see a doctor until late that July when his condition became too bad to continue. Neither the school nor the hospital followed legal regulations requiring that all cases of pulmonary tuberculosis—a class C infectious disease—be reported within 24 hours of diagnosis and that all teachers and students receive medication to keep the disease from spreading.

Ding Ling only knew that more students had contracted tuberculosis throughout the rest of 2016 when a close friend of hers fell ill in February 2017. But the school only took action that August, by which point many students were already infected and were coughing. Students were given some basic medication but not allowed to leave the school or provided hygienic masks.

“The principal said that we couldn’t take any breaks from study unless somebody died,” Ding Ling said.

According to Ding Ling, 75 students were diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis by November 2017. “More than 50 of them were from my class, and most of the others were students in other classes moved out of my class,” she said.

Another student in the class, surnamed Liu, told The Epoch Times that when her parents and over 30 others went to petition the provincial government on Nov. 15, 2017, they were dispersed by the police. One parent was arrested and detained for more than 20 hours.

Mr. Huang, a father of one of the students, told the Epoch Times: “In Taojiang, 100 to 200 students were diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. Many have moved to other cities after being diagnosed with the disease.”

The school administration is only concerned with the college acceptance rate, Huang said, since it affects their positions and salaries. As a result, students are forced to study without adequate rest, even if they face bullying and spread the disease to others.

Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.