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Rural Healthcare Program Launched
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The Chinese Red Cross Foundation yesterday launched a program aimed at providing aid to farmers unable to pay medical bills. The same day the State Council said it would speed up development of rural cooperative healthcare.


At a ceremony in Beijing yesterday, the foundation said it had received 1.7 million yuan (US$210,000) in donations from enterprises and individuals.


Tang Shengwen, the foundation's deputy director, said the money raised through the "Red Cross Angel Program" will be used to help the rural poor afford medical insurance.


Citing a 2003 national survey, Tang said nearly half of rural residents who need medical treatment do not even see a doctor and 30 percent of those who should stay in hospital remain at home because of cost.


Eighty percent of the country's 900 million rural people do not have any medical insurance, and many fall into utter poverty when family members fall ill, even if only a small operation is needed, said Tang.


There is a saying in rural areas that the cost of an appendectomy will mean a family's farm work for a year will have been in vain.


Wang Rupeng, the foundation's secretary-general, said that though farmers' incomes have been on the rise in recent years, the growth rate is rather slow. At the same time, the cost of drugs, outpatient care and hospitalization has soared.


"More than 80 percent of China's population is rural. But government medical expenditure on them only accounts for 20 percent of the total," Wang said.


Wang said that the new program plans to help at least 10,000 poor farmers get medical insurance through the rural cooperative medical system.


The money raised through the program will also help local governments improve equipment in hospitals and clinics at township and village levels, Wang added.


"The program will subsidize rural doctors to receive professional training," said Wang. "A donation of 3,000 yuan (US$370) can pay for a rural medical worker to undergo 10 days of training."


The State Council said in Beijing yesterday that the development of the rural cooperative medical system will be accelerated, as it has proved successful so far in pilot areas.


Begun in 2003, the voluntary system is currently run in 21 percent of the nation's counties and cities, with plans to increase this to 40 percent by 2006.


(China Daily August 11, 2005)

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