Mainland Chinese seeking medical care for their newborns in Hong Kong will not be permitted to deliver in public hospitals for the remainder of 2011, the Hong Kong government announced last week.
Last year alone, mainland women who opted to give birth in Hong Kong accounted for roughly half of the city’s 88,000 total births. Under the new guidelines, non-local, birthing women will not be accepted in public hospitals until the end of December.
For Hong Kong’s expecting mothers, the suspension is seen as a sign of relief; they won’t have to compete with mainlanders for bed space, and the SAR will ensure that their children receive their entitled benefits.
The birthing freeze, however, speaks to a much broader issue: The Hong Kong government continues to struggle with an influx of mainland babies that ultimately will have rights to education, employment and welfare.
Health Secretary York Chow said last week the birth freeze would help alleviate some of the pressure on the territory’s already strained public health system. According to Chow, public hospitals currently grant subsidies to those with Hong Kong ID cards, but cannot deal with other identity documents at this time.
Professor Gabriel Leung – the Hong Kong government’s Under Secretary for Food and Health – said the main issue stems from the health system’s capacity in both public and private sectors to deal with pregnant women who want to give birth in Hong Kong.
Mainland Chinese have seen similar population curbing methods before.
Birth restrictions, such as the one-child policy, have long been imposed on Mainland Chinese to curb birth rates.
Under the one-child policy, the number of children married urban couples can have is restricted to one; it does, however, allow exemptions for several cases, including ethnic minorities, rural couples and parents without siblings.
The announcement also brings into question the broader industry of health tourism and its role in economy of Hong Kong.
The city is often described as the “Asian hub” for cancer treatment and medical tourism, renowned for its high quality treatment and relatively low cost of services available. Medical tourists from around the globe, particularly the U.S. and Europe, travel in large numbers to hospitals in Hong Kong to reap the benefits of the SAR’s cheap medical costs.
But what of the Mainland Chinese who live in Hong Kong or the surrounding areas that are in desperate need of pre-natal care?
At least for now, they’ll have to look elsewhere.