China probes hospital, Baidu after student dies of cancer

A Chinese hospital offering experimental cancer treatment and the country's leading search engine, which promoted the facility, are under investigation after the death of a student with a rare form of cancer.

The probe into the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps and Chinese internet giant Baidu comes amid a public outcry over the death of student Wei Zexi, who underwent experimental cancer treatment in the hospital.

The hospital had appeared at the top of his online search results in a paid advertisement.

Before his death last month, Wei had publicly accused Baidu and the hospital of providing false medical information promising a high success rate for "the world's most advanced" treatment.

Internet users said the 21-year-old might not have died if he had not wasted valuable time undergoing immunotherapy treatment at the hospital. 

Most of the anger was directed at Baidu rather than the hospital, perhaps since health scams and scandals are commonplace in China and there are higher expectations for large firms.

Baidu "directs people to an evil and lying world," one commenter on social microblogging platform Weibo said. "It makes people lose trust and respect for technology."

Baidu does display text at the end of advertised website descriptions with two characters stating that it is a promotion. However, commenters say the notice is not prominent enough and preys on "ordinary people" who might not notice the caveat.

The National Internet Information Office, the National Commerce Bureau and the National Health and Family Planning Committee established the joint investigation team on Monday.

Also Monday, Baidu's shares dropped almost 8 per cent on the US-based Nasdaq after China state media reports said chief executive Robin Li will be summoned by investigators over the student's death.

A Tuesday report by the state-controlled Jingji Cankao Bao said Li had been summoned for questioning on Monday.

Baidu has said it would cooperate with authorities, after earlier stating that their internal investigation had found the hospital had completely legitimate qualifications.

The investigation follows an earlier scandal in January where Baidu admitted it allows healthcare companies to pay for the right to moderate online health information forums.

The online environment is highly controlled in China, which currently blocks some 3,000 websites and online services including Google's search engine. 

Last update: Tue, 03/05/2016 - 12:23
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