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Low Income Groups Given Free Medication in Shanghai
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Unemployed or low-income people with mental illnesses will be given free treatment, health authorities in Shanghai said yesterday.

The pioneering policy was launched on the 15th World Mental Health Day, and is expected to help at least 20,000 people in the metropolis.

"Among the city's 520,000 disabled people, 160,000 are mentally disabled. However, many of them cannot get proper and timely treatment due to financial difficulties," said Luo Zhikun, deputy board director of Shanghai Disabled People's Association.

"Given basic medical treatment, they can regain normal social life."

Officials say the government will invest around 11 million yuan (US$1.37 million) annually in the programme. Those covered by the policy are registered Shanghai residents who are unemployed, without social medical insurance or whose families are considered poverty-stricken.

They can get free drugs from community health care centers in their neighborhood.

Officials from Shanghai Health Bureau say the policy is aiming to increase the overall treatment rate for mentally ill patients, which reached 60 percent in 2005.

Central authorities have set a nationwide goal for mental health treatment of 60 percent by 2010.

"Getting treatment is a practical right that mentally ill patients should enjoy. Shanghai's policy, the first in China, marks a big step forward in caring for this group," said Professor Zhang Mingyuan, honorary president of the Chinese Society of Psychiatry.

(China Daily October 12, 2006)

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