Student volunteer program raises health concerns

Students volunteering at a district hospital, which raised questions over the risk to their health, were taking part in a program designed to foster a sense of public service. 

Concern for the health of student volunteers at Shanghai Minhang District Central Hospital during the flu season was unnecessary, the district's health and family planning commission has said.

A picture posted online of a middle school student helping out in the hospital's respiratory department triggered a heated discussion about the risks to the student's health.

However, the commission said the female student from a middle school in the district was part of a team of volunteers organized by the school and parents to encourage a sense of public duty during the winter break.  

On the day the picture was taken, five students had been working at the hospital, accompanied by a parent. Another 10 or so students had provided voluntary services earlier.

The commission said the program had been temporarily suspended but that follow-up visits to the teenagers' homes had shown they were all in good health. 

"The parents think it's a good chance for their children to serve people at hospital for their social practice," an official with the commission said. But he said it would take it into consideration more carefully where the students would be volunteering.

Each volunteer at the hospital had been trained in how to protect themselves from infection, including the correct way of wearing a mask, and given other healthcare advice before they started, the commission noted.

The hospital organizes various voluntary programs to give students a sense of public duty and improve their communication skills.

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