Enterprises, social organizations and even individuals are being encouraged to open community health centers, according to a circular jointly released by 11 State departments Tuesday.
Foreigners may also hold a share in joint-venture community-based medical services.
The move aims to rearrange the unbalanced distribution of medical resources between rural and urban areas, and between big hospitals and community-based medical centers in cities.
The government departments said they expect that a well-functioning community health-care system can be established nationwide by 2005.
In China, about 70 percent of medical resources are concentrated in cities, where some 30 per cent of the country's population live. Within cities, the majority of doctors work in big hospitals.
People often have to walk a long distance to get to big hospitals and then wait in a long queue to consult a doctor about a common illness.
Medical services in big hospitals are more expensive than those in small health centers.
More community-based medical services are needed to meet the challenges of rapid urbanization, an ageing population and the increased incidence of chronic diseases, said Li Changming, an official in charge of grass-roots health care under the Ministry of Health.
China launched a nationwide reform of its health-care system in 1997. A main target of the reform is to rectify the serious imbalance of medical services both in rural and urban areas.
By the end of 2001, a total of 308 cities across the country had established more than 11,500 community-based health centers and clinics.
(China Daily August 28, 2002)