Basic reforms in China's medical care system in rural areas should provide more than 900 million farmers with better services, a top health official said Thursday.
"Despite continuous efforts over many years, problems with the basic medical service for farmers have still not been completely resolved," said Minister of Health Zhang Wenkang.
He spoke at the 2001 National Health Congress, which opened Thursday in Beijing.
Draft reforms will mainly include setting up a basic nationwide health care network, an effective health security system for farmers and an increase in the supply of medical resources in rural areas.
The ideas are on paper, and final approval from the State Council is awaited.
China has been practicing a new medical care system in urban areas since early last year, aiming at building a sound social insurance system, high-quality and reasonably priced medicines and a healthy pharmaceutical production and circulation network.
To provide a better basic medical service to the largest number of people at a relatively low cost is a prime target for the country, Vice-Premier Li Lanqing said in a letter addressing the congress.
Welfare-based medical systems and insurance systems have yet to be set up in rural areas, where most of the population live and share about 30 percent of the country's medical resources.
Because farmers in impoverished areas have inadequate insurance systems, medical resources or incomes, medical treatment is almost impossible to get.
In 1999, the average spending of each farmer on medical services was 70 yuan (US$8.4) -- 4.4 percent of their living expenses, official statistics indicate.
In the same year, the average net income per farmer was 2,210 yuan (US$266) official figures say. In some regions the figure is much lower.
"Many families in my village could be destitute if a single member needs expensive medical treatment," said Ge Hongrong, a doctor from a village in Junan County, in East China's Shandong Province.
By the end of this year, the ministry should finish drafting a management regulation on rural medical practitioners which will be sent to central government.
The minister warned that any rural clinic found selling poor-quality medicines or medical equipment would be severely punished.
Over the last 10 years, China has invested about 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion) in improving rural medical services.
Zhang also said loans and donations from foreign countries and non-governmental organizations were needed in China's rural areas, especially its middle and western regions.
(China Daily 02/16/2001)