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Mobile Hospitals to Offer Rural Health Care

Most counties in central and western China will soon have mobile hospitals to ensure basic health care for poverty-stricken rural residents. The central government has equipped counties in the region with 1,004 coaches to provide door-to-door health care for farmers.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Health have invested 230 million yuan (US$27.7 million) in the program, and the NDRC indicates that an additional 800 coaches bought with treasury bonds will be put into use at the end of this year.

"We aim to equip every county in western and central China with a mobile hospital," said NDRC Vice Minister Li Shenglin in Beijing on Saturday. Li said the program is part of the central government's efforts to develop a sound health care system in rural areas.

The coaches will mainly be used in common disease diagnosis, minor operations, health checkups and health education for rural residents, who often live many kilometers away from cities and towns.

Under the close supervision of provincial governments, county-level hospitals will use the vehicles to conduct medical checkups related to AIDS and other contagious diseases.

But local officials and residents are offering a cautious welcome.

Xiong Guanglin, mayor of the city of Bazhong in southwest China's Sichuan Province, said investment in the health sector in western rural areas is particularly low.

"Shocking statistics will indicate how much investment the rural areas need," said Xiong.

In his city, more than 90 percent of women in urban areas give birth in hospital, while about 90 percent of babies are born at home in the countryside. While more than 90 percent of deaths in urban areas occur in hospital, more than 90 percent of people pass away at home in rural areas.

Xiong also said that while 70 percent of the nation's population lives in rural areas, they have access to just 30 percent of the nation's health and medical care resources.

"A simple comparison can reveal a great deal," Xiong said. "When putting an end to hasty investments, the fact that some rural regions are in dire need of investment should not be overlooked."

In some impoverished areas, farmers have to pay medical bills themselves. The farmers cannot afford to pay for checkups so they are more likely to become seriously ill, which in turn makes them still poorer.

The Ministry of Health reports that since last year, the central government has allocated 10 yuan (US$1.20) annually to every rural resident in central and western China to help them join a new medical insurance scheme.

The plan, which will also collect 10 yuan for each rural resident from local governments and the same amount from the residents themselves, is a way to help those who are poor to afford expensive medical treatment for serious illnesses.

(China Daily August 2, 2004)

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