Meng Meiqing, 46, a local midwife can no longer earn a living after losing out to the newly-established clinics in her locality.
A resident of Xinmin village in Pingguo county in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Meng delivered many babies for nearby villagers over the past few decades.
During this period, Meng had a thriving business and was often invited to help in child-bearing. For her prolonged efforts, she received appreciations as well as hospitality from the infants' families, sometimes even a leg of pork or some money.
Although failing to complete her middle-school education, she was contented and maintained the trust of her clients over a long period of time. "People trusted me at the time," she said.
In spite of this trust, however, her popularity somewhat faded during the past few years, as a growing number of village clinics sprang up in China's vast countryside.
Pregnant Chinese women have a long tradition of receiving midwifery, or home deliveries due to poor health facilities.
With the passage of time, therefore, these elderly women who helped others deliver babies earned the name of "professional midwife".
Since the founding of new China in 1949, health conditions in its urban areas have greatly improved, with midwifery having disappeared from China's major cities.
Up until recently, however, in China's vast and less-developed rural areas, midwives were still in great demand.
Jiang Ping, a rural sanitary expert, said many people in China's countryside used to believe that leaving home to have a baby was inauspicious. This is another reason for the existence of midwifery in rural areas.
Midwives, usually without adequate schooling, are not always dependable. As a matter of fact, most of them have never received professional training, but learned through medical practices. Accidental deaths resulting from midwifery malpractice have occurred sometimes in China's rural areas.
Fu Wei, a Ministry of Public Health official, said midwifery malpractice has a direct correlation with a relatively high mortality rate of Chinese pregnant women.
On an optimistic note, China enacted the Law on Protecting Women's Rights and Interests, its first basic law on women's rights in 1992. In 1995, the Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care also came into effect. The two laws shaped a legal framework for protecting women and children's well-being.
During the past years, the Chinese government has allocated a large sum of money annually to build clinics and improve health care facilities in the country's rural areas. To date, the maternal and infant health care system has been extended to all villages across China.
Meanwhile, some well-equipped village clinics have employed professional nurses. In Wu'an village, Houzai township of Zhijin county in southwestern Guizhou province, Chen Xiaoqing, a would-be mother was receiving a prenatal examination in the village clinic.A year ago, she said, she was persuaded by the clinic to give birth in a hospital, and has thus far received five routine examinations.
"I am ready to stay in the clinic to await my due date," she said, adding that she felt reassured in the hospital.
Meng Shoule, a clinic director in Houzhai township, noted that, hospital childbirth in hospitals do not cost very much these days. Given the fact that most farmers' incomes are increasing, hospitalchildbirth is no longer an economic burden for most of them.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Public Health indicate that as of 2000, China's hospital childbirth rate had risen to 76 percent from 51 percent in 1990. The mortality rate of pregnant women has dropped to 53 for every 100,000 from 62 for every 100,000 in 1995.
The reduced mortality rate of pregnant women has extended China's per capita life expectancy, which reached 71.8 in 2001, much higher than 35, the previous figure prior to the founding of new China in 1949. The country is now listed among developed countries in terms of longevity.
Li Fuchun, a noted Chinese sociology expert, cited the phasing out of the ancient midwifery profession as a big step forward for Chinese society.
(People's Daily September 30, 2002)