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Infected students in payout wrangle

By Cang Wei and Zhou Huiying (China Daily)

10:30, September 06, 2011

BEIJING, Sept. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- A dispute over compensation has developed between Northeast Agricultural University and some of its students who were infected with a severe disease while dissecting goats in class.

From March to May this year, 27 students and a teacher at the university in Heilongjiang province were diagnosed with brucella melitensis, an infectious disease classified as serious as SARS and H1N1 flu, after four goats were dissected in an anatomy class in December 2010.

The infected students are from five classes of three schools at the university. They shared the experimental goats, which were not quarantined after being bought from a local farm, nor while they were at the university before the dissections.

Feng Xiao, vice-president of Northeast Agricultural University, apologized to the infected students and their parents at a news conference on Monday and said each student had been offered compensation of 61,000 yuan ($9,550).

One director and one Party leader at a school involved in the incident were punished with dismissal.

However, a teacher surnamed Shi from the university's publicity department told China Daily that 10 students refused to accept the compensation and instead are demanding 340,000 yuan each.

Some students also asked the university to arrange jobs for them in government-affiliated institutions, which are considered to be well paid, Shi said.

By Sept 5, only 17 students had signed the compensation agreement with the university.

"The university showed its sincerity after learning of the infection by sending the infected people to the best hospitals and inviting the best doctors to treat them," Shi said.

According to the General Hospital of Farm Bureau in Heilongjiang, where the infected teacher and the students received treatment from March 14 to Aug 29, 25 people were cured and discharged from the hospital, one patient's condition is improving and two others still have fluid in their joint cavities.

However, one infected student told China Youth Daily that he cannot even walk due to severe pain and weakness, let alone take care of himself or his family members.

"We are afraid of the potential risks to our futures," he said.

Huang Liuyu, director of the Institute for Disease Prevention and Control of the People's Liberation Army, said that brucella melitensis may cause sterility and lifelong loss of the ability to work if the infection is not treated immediately.

"Those infected students are from our university, and we've tried really hard to provide reasonable compensation," said Shi. "But some of their requests are beyond acceptance."

Huang Yizhi, a lawyer with Beijing Ruifeng Law Firm, said that the victims can file a lawsuit to protect their rights if no compensation agreement is reached.

She also said that as a specialist agricultural university, the teachers should be especially aware of the possible risks of animal experiments.

Zhang Zanning, executive director of the Health Law Association of China, said that both the university and the farm providing the goats were responsible for the infection.

"Those people infected with brucella melitensis should get compensation according to their disability levels," Zhang said. "If they lose the ability to work, the university even needs to pay for their lifelong living expenses."


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