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Health Emergencies for Expats in China

Submitted: August 2013

If you are in an emergency situation, you must go to a hospital. Failure to do so will only make things worse.

Be aware that you are not necessarily better off waiting for an ambulance. This is because ambulances are ill-equipped, their staff is poorly trained, and they are not always available. Therefore, you had better take a taxi or another vehicle to take you to the nearest hospital.

Private hospitals also run ambulance services to sort out emergencies. These ambulances are much more equipped than their counterparts in the public sector. If you can afford to pay for their services, check the applicable emergency number in your local area. For more information on private hospitals, see Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in China.

It is always advisable not to be alone at the hospital. Thus, you should call somebody to come with you to the hospital as soon as possible.

Emergency numbers

110 is the official emergency number in China (12110 for text messaging). It redirects you to the police hotline, which is able to deal with any emergency.

The emergency number for health emergencies in China is 120. You can also dial 999 for the private ambulance service in Beijing. 112 is available on GSM mobile phones, but it should only play a pre-recorded message telling you about other emergency numbers. Other useful emergency numbers include:

Calls to 110, 119 and 120 are free. Helplines are normally able to speak English but this is not guaranteed, especially if you call from a rural area.

If you call an emergency number in China, be aware that you are not expected to provide first-aid treatment unless you are qualified to do so. Instead, you must wait for the ambulance to come.

If you can’t speak Chinese, you should ask for somebody who can speak English. In extreme circumstances, use these basic words.

Intravenous (IV) therapy

You are likely to have IV injections if you go to a hospital in China. This is because Chinese doctors feel free to prescribe you a full scale IV therapy, even where you wouldn’t have had any IV injection in your home country. However, unclean needles are potentially dangerous for your health, as they carry a high risk of contamination.

If you have any doubt regarding the safety of a needle, ask for a new one. If it is not possible, ask for the needle to be sterilised. For more information on needles generally in China, see Doctors and Hospitals in China.

High altitude sickness

If you are not a hiker, it is possible that you don’t know about high altitude sickness. These health problems can be very severe, not to say deadly.

High altitudes are commonplace in many Western and Southern parts of China. If you have recently moved to a high altitude location and you feel bad, you may have high altitude sickness and you need emergency treatment.

As altitude increases, air density decreases. Thus, your respiratory functions are simply unable to absorb the amount of oxygen they previously used to inhale. High altitude sickness can be mitigated if you allow your body to get used to high altitudes before climbing further. This process can take a few days.

Typically, high altitude sickness should not be a serious concern unless your altitude exceeds 2,000 metres above sea level. However, you should seek medical advice to check your individual situation prior to moving to a high altitude location, especially if you have a disability or any other vulnerability.



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