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Rural elderly vulnerable to medical scams

By Ma Danning (People's Daily Online)    15:44, August 22, 2016

(file photo)

Lacking companions, cut off from information technology and in fear of deteriorating health, “left-behind” elderly Chinese in rural areas are highly vulnerable to illegal schemes related to healthcare products. The latest instance of such a scheme came in the disguise of a “gene sequencing test.”

Chen Weishan, an elderly woman who lived all her life in the farming town of Jiangyin in Jiangsu province, committed suicide earlier this year by drowning herself in a river after losing 300,000 yuan ($45,250) to a “gene sequencing” scam. The money she lost was her entire family’s life savings, Jiangsu-based Modern Express reported on Aug. 18.

Chen heard about the gene sequencing test through a neighbor. The test, offered by a medical supply company, claimed to detect genetic defects and predict possible health problems for the test-taker and the test-taker’s offspring, and also predict the talents of the test-taker’s offspring. As part of the package, Chen was told she could also buy medical supplies at a great discount.

Contrary to her expectations, the six thick reports Chen received after taking the test turned out to be full of unrecognizable symbols and generalized medical results that could apply to a wide range of people. Amid the nonsensical medical jargon, the most comprehensible recommendation was to “buy a wide variety of healthcare products.”

According to Li Gongkun, who has a PhD in cell biology from Peking University, current gene sequencing services are capable of deciphering individual genetic codes. However, the phenotype of a human being, including a person’s talents, height and intelligence, is the result of interaction between multiple genetic codes, which makes it unpredictable.

Xu Chuanhui, a Peking University doctor, said that genes play an important role in disease, natural talents and character; however, based on current scientific developments, it’s too early to claim that humans have mastered the prediction of talents or character based on gene sequencing.

“Any organization claiming that a certain gene can determine a certain human trait is lying,” said Li.

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Since most young people in rural villages move to bigger cities to work, many elderly people become cut off from the modern world, uninformed about various frauds to which they are susceptible. These senior citizens often have a great desire to maintain their health; they want to be able to farm or help take care of their grandchildren so as to remain valuable and productive when they get too old to work, according to commentary on a QQ news site.

In previous pyramid schemes exposed by the media, healthcare companies have frequently taken advantage of the fact that the elderly desire companion. Fraudulent companies have organized all kinds of activities, including tours and informal chats, in order to win their attention and trust.

Material goods are another valuable lure: “A bunch of people suddenly show up in your neighborhood. While dispensing free plastic washbasins, washing powder and soap to residents, they invite you to attend ‘health lectures’ or free physical exams. They offer complimentary gifts for a few days, and then begin to sell--to cheat,“ explained a report by China National Radio on May 10.

In Chen’s case, she was brought to visit the headquarters of the medical supply company, and was put up in a fancy hotel for the duration of her visit. Having never enjoyed such a luxurious environment before, Chen was overwhelmed and filled with gratitude. 

The commentary continued: “With the migration of the labor force, Chinese rural areas are seeing a rapidly aging population. These senior citizens are easily susceptible to scams, yet have little resourse when it comes to seeking justice.” 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor: Ma Danning,Bianji)

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