As the temperature drops, the United Foundation for Children’s Health (UFCH, formerly UFCO) is bracing itself for an influx of sick children. UFCH is the non-profit branch of United Family Hospitals (UFH). Every year UFH donates one percent of their gross revenue to the organization, which then uses the funds to provide vital life-saving surgeries, vaccinations and health checks to orphans and underprivileged children. Most of the children they see during the winter months are from foster homes or orphanages and who have come down with bronchitis or pneumonia. “These kids are premature and they can’t defend themselves,” says Jenny Yang, the Treasurer at UFCH.
Yang and UFCH’s operations manager, Maggie Fu, can recite numerous stories about the children they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Standing over a tiny baby with pallid skin, they recall his story. This boy was born prematurely and abandoned on the steps of a foster home in another province. Aware that he needed specialist help, his carer took him on a harrowing 12-hour train journey to Beijing. When the baby arrived at BJU, he weighed a mere 1.2kg and was suffering from pneumonia. He’s now on the way to recovery and weighs just over 1.6kgs. This baby’s story is not an isolated one. Located in a small crib next to him is a another premature baby – a girl whose teenage mother was disowned by her family after she gave birth out of wedlock.
First established in Beijing, UFCH has extended their organization to Shanghai with the help of Fu and Shanghai United Hospital (SHU). Their sister branch is currently finalizing agreements with an orphanage in the Shanghai region that houses over 600 children. Such relationships are very difficult to establish, with both private and state-run homes hesitant to allow outsiders access to the children under their care. The team of five volunteers at the Shanghai branch of UFCH is hoping their first act of cooperation with the orphanage will be a delicate eye operation for a child with double cataracts.
Though a lot of UFCH’s funds go directly towards funding surgeries for children in need, they also pride themselves on working to prevent major illnesses before they occur. UFCH has recently started a free vaccination program in both Beijing and Shanghai.
With a dedicated team of trained staff, they go on-site to provide flu shots as well as standard childhood vaccinations that are normally unavailable to underprivileged children. According to Yang, the Ministry of Health regulates that children living in foster homes, orphanages, or on the street are ineligible for the standard vaccinations normally available to Chinese children. “We don’t think it’s rationing; perhaps they think these children are high-risk. We’re not really sure why [they’re not vaccinated],” says Yang. Much of UFCH’s work is filling in the gaps left by an overstretched medical system.
In addition to their vaccination program, UFCH works directly with orphanages and foster homes to provide specialist medical training, nutritional advice and health checks. They also have a longstanding relationship with an orphanage in Jiaozuo, located in Henan province. UFCH makes regular visits to the Jiaozuo orphanage to evaluate and treat the children living there. All children under the age of 2 receive medical attention, which in some cases results in the child being taken to the hospital. In such cases UFCH takes it upon themselves to fully fund the child’s treatment. UFCH also provides the orphanage with much-needed infant formula, donated by Abbott Laboratories.
Despite their successes, UFCH struggles to meet demand. “There are many more surgeries that need to be done,” says Yang. Supported by UFCH, the local hospital in Jiaozuo treats 30 to 40 children from the orphanage per year. Even with a generous 30 percent discount from the hospital, UFCH still must to provide approximately USD 30,000 to pay for the operations. “It’s crucial for the orphanage to have this health care,” says Yang.
In an effort to source funding for vital surgeries, vaccinations, and training programs, UFCH have started looking for partner organizations and companies who are willing to donate services, people, and funds. A Beijing-based embassy that preferred to remain unnamed has recently donated enough money to fund 18 surgeries for children under UFCH’s care. “Eighteen kids will get life-changing surgery. One is a complicated heart operation; a specialist surgeon will be flown in to perform it,” says Yang. Yang hopes that the holiday season will bring much-needed donations that will fund even more surgeries in 2010.
Following the article “Reaching Out” (beijingkids, August 2009), which featured UFCH, readers showed their support by donating their time, money and even a piano which went to one of the nurseries supported by UFCH. Funds went towards many vital surgeries, including those for children with cleft lips and palates. UFCH would like readers to know that their kind donations have made a difference.
Despite their successes, UFCH struggles to meet demand. “There are many more surgeries that need to be done,” says Yang
United Foundation for Children’s Health