China’s hospitals mobilise to tackle rising child respiratory illnesses amid mycoplasma spike

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30th November 2023 – (Beijing) In response to a dramatic upswing in childhood respiratory conditions, notably mycoplasma pneumonia, hospitals across China are striving to increase their capacity and resource allocation. Despite the significant rise in outpatient and inpatient visits this winter, the health system has remained resilient, a stark contrast to its state during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing, a highly sought-after institution among local parents, has substantially bolstered its treatment capabilities. Infusion seat numbers have risen by nearly 49% daily, and pneumonia patient bed availability has expanded by more than 40%, as reported by Beijing Youth Daily.

To manage the demand, the number of available doctors has nearly doubled, and a streamlined system for seriously ill children has been established, ensuring swift diagnostic report delivery.

Zhou Rongyi, Deputy Director of the Pediatrics Department at Henan University of Chinese Medicine’s First Affiliated Hospital, stated that they receive over 2,000 visits per day, with approximately 70% being respiratory tract infection patients. The hospital has been struggling to keep up with ward demand since October due to a surge of mycoplasma infections, often coupled with influenza. To accommodate the influx, Zhou’s hospital has repurposed wards previously used for COVID-19 patients and extended working hours to accommodate working parents.

Zhou stressed, “Despite long queues and limited ward availability at some pediatric hospitals, we have not reached a state of overwhelming. The lessons learned from COVID-19 have enabled hospitals to prioritise severe cases and categorise treatments based on symptoms.”

To alleviate pressure, major hospitals and local health authorities have been disseminating information on influenza and pneumonia prevention at community levels and grassroots hospitals.

An anonymous expert from the Shanghai Children’s Medical Centre stated that their hospital situation is currently stable. The number of children seeking treatment for mycoplasma pneumonia has decreased, while influenza cases have risen.

In Shanghai, major hospitals have been implementing pre-examination tests, medical scheduling, and enhancing internet-based outpatient services to mitigate patient reception pressure and reduce waiting times.

Despite hospital overcrowding, most people gravitate towards major hospitals. However, community hospitals can play a crucial role in managing this wave of respiratory disease.

Song, a Beijing mother who recently visited the Liulitun Community Health Service Centre with her child, affirmed this point. Due to difficulties registering at pediatric hospitals and long waiting times, she opted for the community hospital near her home. Song emphasised the effectiveness of early treatment at community hospitals, which can prevent overcrowding at larger institutions.

Lu Hongzhou, head of the Third People’s Hospital of Shenzhen, agreed with this sentiment. He reassured parents that early treatment at community hospitals can effectively manage infections like mycoplasma pneumonia.

Lu attributed the recent mycoplasma pneumonia outbreak to an “immunisation gap”. With children not having the opportunity to build resistance against common viruses like influenza due to COVID-19 restrictions, they became susceptible when restrictions were lifted.

Amid this surge in respiratory illnesses, some overseas media reports have sensationalised the severity of the diseases and questioned China’s transparency. Respiratory and pediatric experts have dismissed these claims, criticising the reports for projecting an inhumane image of the country and for their biased perspectives on China-related affairs.

On Wednesday, answering a reporter from NHK about international attention over increasing outpatient and emergency visits, Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, reassured that it is safe to travel and do business in China and that there’s no need to worry.

Zhou, from the First Affiliated Hospital of Henan University of Chinese Medicine, commented on the exaggerated media worries and concerns, stating, “it is not surprising to see some Western media outlets spreading false information about China. But facts speak for themselves.”