"I had never expected Premier Wen Jiabao to be so easy-going when I went to Zhongnanhai to meet him. I was so nervous," said Ma Wenfang, recalling his first meeting with the premier in February.
Ma, a doctor from Suliuzhuang village, Tongxu County in central China's Henan Province, was even more surprised when he learned his suggestions to the premier were included in China's government work report.
On February 6 this year, a month before the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), Ma was called to Beijing along with other representatives from health, education, culture, technology and sports departments to have a discussion held by the State Council.
During the meeting, Ma told Premier Wen of the difficulty that farmers face in receiving medical care in his village.
"The average income in my village is only 500 yuan (US$ 63) a year, most of which is spent on daily life and children's education. When villagers get seriously ill, they have no money to go to a hospital," Ma said.
"I proposed to the premier that China should speed up the promotion of a new rural cooperative medical system to let more farmers enjoy the benefits," Ma said.
The difficult and expensive medical care in rural China has become a major social problem. A report by the Development and Research Center under the State Council shows that 37 percent of Chinese farmers who should go to hospital refuse and 65 percent who should be hospitalized are not.
To solve this problem, Premier Wen Jiabao promised in the government report on Sunday that China will speed up the establishment of a new type of rural cooperative medical care system by extending the scope of current trials to 40 percent of the counties in China this year and by increasing the allowances paid by the central and local governments from 20 yuan to 40 yuan a month. An additional 4.2 billion yuan will be allocated from the central government budget for this program.
"I was so happy to hear that," Ma Wenfang said. "Premier Wen also said in his report that medical staff in the cities will go to the countryside to provide medical services on a regular basis in the future. This is really good news. We need good doctors and we want them to stay too."
Ma has been a village doctor for more than 40 years. His clinic receives no more than five patients a day and all he has is a blood-pressure meter, a clinical thermometer and a stethoscope for 2,500 villagers. "About 98 percent of villagers first come to me when they get sick. They only go to a county hospital when I can't cure their illness," Ma said.
The village clinic has set up a health archive for villagers. Ma knows every villager's health status and medical history. But he can do nothing when a villager gets seriously ill. "The township hospitals here are not so good. So villagers have to go to the county hospital which is 25 kilometers away."
Ma has promised Premier Wen that he will do all he can when the new rural cooperative medical system arrives in his county. "We all hold great expectations for the new system, and we are all looking forward to its arrival," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 10, 2006)