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Healthcare hotline bilingual for Games
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Foreign visitors with public health concerns during the Olympics will be able to call an English-language hotline.

Launched in 2006, the 12320 number will be extended during the Games to provide a bilingual service in two of the host cities: Beijing and Shanghai.

Run by the Ministry of Health, the hotline provides help and advice on a range of issues including medical consultations, disease prevention, hospital management and food safety.

The Chinese-language version is currently available during the day in 31 cities and around the clock in Shanghai.

Li Rong, vice-director of the hotline national management center, and a CPPCC member, said: "We started introducing bilingual operators last year, and they have been given extra training for the Olympics."

The hotline is open to anyone who wants to report a public health issue, she said.

It will also serve as a surveillance aid during the Olympics, Li said.

For example, if a large number of calls are received about people suffering from diarrhea, the information can be quickly analyzed and then passed on to the relevant government departments, she said.

"We will provide prompt responses to all calls for medical consultations, while we promise to provide feedback on complaints within 10 days," she said.

Last year, the hotline in Beijing received more than 3,400 complaints, many of them about poor service at hospitals and food hygiene issues, such as out-of-date food at supermarkets and food poisoning.

The majority of the hotline's 130-plus operators are women, with an average age of about 30, she said. "One of the problems we face is that many of the operators are young and don't have a great deal of experience of working in a hospital.

"But with the low wages we offer, it is hard to attract top professionals," Li said.

(China Daily March 7, 2008)

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