China saw 140 million farmers benefited from the rural cooperative medical care system in the first nine months of last year.
The beneficiaries got 9.58 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in subsidy for medical treatment, said Gao Qiang, Minister of Health, at a national work conference on Monday.
About 406 million farmers, or 45.8 percent of the total rural population, joined the system last year.
Wu Yi, vice premier of the State Council, stressed at the conference that China will further deepen reforms on the medical care system so as to provide both rural and urban residents with an easy access to medical treatment.
The new rural cooperative medical care system, launched in 2003, is expected to help farmers ease the expensive burden of medical services.
Under the system, each farmer pays 10 yuan to a medical fund every year, with the state and local governments each contributing 10 yuan to the pool too. When a farmer receives medical treatment, he could have a certain proportion of the medical expenses refunded.
By the end of last September, the system had been extended to 1,433 counties, which accounted for 50.1 percent of the country's total.
By June 2005, the system had covered 495 million rural dwellers and a total of 14.412 billion yuan (1.8 billion dollars) had been paid in 282 million cases as subsidies to farmers.
Wu Yi also emphasized the role of doctors working in villages and counties in improving medical services for farmers.
"Doctors in rural areas have provided farmers with convenient, prompt and cheap treatment," Wu said.
"They also contribute a lot to the report of epidemic situations, spread of health knowledge and promotion of disease prevention and control in rural areas," she said.
She urged local governments and health departments to better protect these doctors' rights and interests, strengthen training for them and attract more professionals to the rank of rural doctors.
The Chinese government has pledged to invest more than 30 billion yuan (US$3.85 billion) to improve its rural medical care network during its 11th Five-Year Plan (2006- 2010).
(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2007)