"As the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) experience showed us, government investment in health is a necessity for China's economic growth and social development," said resident World Health Organization (WHO) representative in China, Dr. Henk Bekedam in Zhongshan city Sunday.
Bekedam made this remark at a forum on China's rural primary health care system held in Zhongshan, a city in south China's Guangdong Province where the SARS epidemic first struck.
"A healthy population means a healthy work force one that will continue to drive China's economic expansion. And studies consistently show that social patterns of life-long health result in lower overall national health care costs," Bekedam explained to over 500 experts and grassroots rural medical workers.
Bekedam said that the government must be prepared to increase its investment of public funds in areas where markets fail to do the job. Especially in the impoverished rural areas, government investment is critically important.
A survey released by China's Ministry of Health in 1998 shows that the rural population, accounting for 70 percent of total Chinese population, only consumes 15.9 percent of the government's investment in public health.
"With increased expenditure in the future, China has to develop an enhanced information feedback system for its national health care system to determine which policies are working and making the most return on investment," added Bekedam.
He also said non-government organizations can shoulder more responsibility in establishing a rural primary health care system for they can work more closely with the community. "They should be more funded by the government," he said.
Zhang Chaoyang, an official from the Ministry of Health in charge of primary health care, said that to finance the poorly-funded rural health care system, the government is seeking to absorb private capital into the system and to establish a medical security system for the rural population.
According to Bekedam, WHO is currently cooperating with the Chinese government in these efforts and already has 80 pilot projects over the country.
(Xinhua News Agency December 1, 2003)