China's rural cooperative medical system, which requires the government to partly fund farmers' medical expenses, has signed up 396 million farmers -- approximately 44.7 percent of the total rural population, the Ministry of Health announced on Monday.
By the end of June, 1,399 counties (including some districts and cities) were piloting the new rural cooperative medical system. This is 48.9 percent of China's counties. There were 678 pilot counties at the end of last year.
All counties, cities and districts in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong have joined the system, said ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an.
For most farmers in China finding a well-equipped and cheap clinic in rural areas is difficult because investment in medical care facilities in the country is much less than in cities.
Financial burdens also hamper farmers from getting proper treatment. Statistics from the Health Ministry show one third of poor rural patients in China choose not to go to hospital and 45 percent of the hospitalized farmers ask to be discharged before they've recovered.
The government began to increase input into healthcare in rural areas after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. The central government has decided to double allowances of 20 yuan (US$2.5) this year for each farmer participating in the rural cooperative medical system.
Under the new policy a farmer puts 10 yuan (US$1.25) a year into his personal medical care account and the government adds another 40 yuan (US$5). The government will pay a maximum of 65 percent of his medical expenses a year.
The total allowance provided by central government this year could reach 4.23 billion yuan (US$529 million), said Mao. The government also promised to spend more than 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) over the next five years on renovating hospital buildings in towns and upgrading equipment.
By 2010 China will renovate 22,000 village clinics, 1,300 county-level general hospitals, 400 county-level traditional or ethnic hospitals and 950 county-level maternity and child-care institutes.
The new rural cooperative medical system is to be available to 80 percent of Chinese counties by the end of 2008.
This year the Ministry of Health is planning to train 500,000 medical staff in the pilot counties and send 3,900 urban doctors to assist in rural regions, said Mao.
(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2006)