Malnourished student dies in China, weighing only 21kg after being unable to afford food
Her last wish was to ‘have a good year with my brother’
A Chinese woman who was severely malnourished after poverty led her to starve herself while trying to support her sick brother has died, said local media.
Wu Huayan lived on a meagre diet of rice and chillies, costing just 2 yuan, or 20p, per day for five years while working two jobs and studying at university. She was just 1.35m tall and weighed only 21.5kg.
She died aged 24 on Monday at the Affiliated Hospital of Guizhou Medical University in the city on Tongren, where she had been treated for severe malnutrition in October 2019, according to Chinese news reports.
Her brother, who was not named, confirmed her death to state-run newspaper Beijing Youth Daily.
Wu became a carer for her brother, who requires mental health treatment, after their parents died when she was just four years old.
The siblings lived in Guizhou, one of the poorest provinces in China. Wu was a student at the Guihua Shenghua Vocational and Technical College.
She was given 300 yuan, or £32, a month from the state, and worked two jobs which amounted to 600 yuan (£65) in earnings a month.
Most of the money went towards her brother’s care and Wu adopted her extremely frugal lifestyle while she was still in high school to save money for his treatment.
Shanxi Evening News reported Wu began showing signs of illness and malnutrition while in school, but never sought help for herself in hospital because she was “too worried about spending money”.
She said: “I have lost my father and mother. My brother is my only relative. I can’t lose my brother anymore.”
The siblings’ situation improved after Wu started attending university due to available school scholarships and grants, as well as her two jobs, but her health began to decline again in 2018.
News of her plight spread when she was taken to hospital with severe malnutrition and a donation fund was launched to help nurse her back to health.
Her donation fund raised 470,000 yuan (£51,500) when it launched in October. Local government officials also pitched in after the controversy piqued their attention and donated 20,000 yuan (£2,100) to the siblings as an emergency package.
As a result of her situation, she was left with damage to her heart and suffered hair loss, ringing ears and insomnia.
The hospital reportedly declined to provide a reason for her death. Wu’s last wish before her death was to buy a “few pieces of furniture” during the Spring Festival and “have a good year with my brother”.
She also hoped to donate her organs after her death and her wishes are reportedly being processed by relevant departments in the hospital.
Her death has sparked outrage in China, with many questioning why the government did not do more to save her.
China is deemed one of the world’s most unequal countries, said the International Monetary Fund, despite the government's pledge to “eliminate” poverty by the end of 2020.
In 2015, China's president Xi Jinping announced a plan to build a "moderately prosperous society" that would make poverty a thing of the past, but inequality between cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and rural areas have grown.
The IMF said inequality is "likely to rise further" if the government does not make additional policy changes, including redesigning personal income tax and social security tax, and increase spending on social services in rural areas.
The province is one of the country’s wealthiest and defines extreme poverty as having a household income below 6,000 yuan – around 50 cents more than the World Bank’s definition of £1.46 per day.