China plans to set up a nationwide network of community-based heath services in order to provide urban residents, especially the elderly, with more convenient and affordable health care.
The massive plan, initiated by the Ministry of Health (MOH), has won government backing, following a new inter-departmental decision to improve community health care.
Policies including the encouragement of enterprises and individuals to invest and operate community health stations are part of the plan which has been released to local governments.
Although the majority of community health service will remain non-profit making, profit-making health care services are to be allowed to satisfy the wide-ranging needs of residents.
The network is expected to cover more than 70 percent of Chinese cities and reach half of the country's urbanites by the year 2005, according to an official with the Ministry of Health (MOH).
He hoped that as the network begins operating nationwide in 2010, most urban Chinese will be able to have their ailments treated easily at home or at neighborhood clinics, instead of having to queue at major hospitals.
"It is our goal to make medical service more accessible, and affordable and effective for ordinary people by emphasizing the role of the community," said Li Changming, the senior MOH officialwho is in charge of basic-level health care.
The official acknowledged that at present a large number of urbanites are unable to enjoy convenient medical services, since 80 percent of medical resources have been put into big hospitals.
"Complaints about inconvenience and the high cost of medical treatment at hospitals are increasing, especially from old people," Li said.
The problem could get worse as China's silver-hair population is growing, he said.
The community health care network will be composed of community health care centers and stations, and general practitioners. The services will be mainly provided to women, children and the elderly, patients with chronic diseases and handicapped people.
Apart from treating illnesses, general practitioners are also responsible for disease prevention, health promotion, rehabilitation, health education and family planning services.
Thousands of community health care centers have opened in about half of some 600 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, since the trials were launched in 1997.
(People's Daily August 28, 2002)