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Shenzhen Subsidizes Migrant Childbirth

Low-income pregnant women in this southern city are receiving cheap yet quality healthcare services thanks to a wide ranging, government subsidized project.

Since November last year about 60 hospitals in six districts of Shenzhen have set aside a number of beds specifically for pregnant women in the low income bracket, whether they have residency in the city or not.

The hospitals charge 1,200 yuan (US$148) for natural delivery, which includes a two-day hospital stay, the necessary medicines and physical checks, the director of the Department of Maternity and Children Healthcare of the Shenzhen Health Bureau, who is surnamed Lin, told China Daily.

"The hospitals lose money," he said. Normally, a natural delivery costs between 2,000 and 2,600 yuan (US$247-321).

To further aid the low-income group and help the hospitals maintain normal operations, the district governments give a subsidy of up to 400 yuan (US$49) for each natural delivery.

This means that at some hospitals, beneficiaries of the scheme pay as little as 800 yuan (US$99).

For women who need a Caesarean section, and those who suffer serious illness or difficulty during pregnancy, the district governments sometimes pay a large proportion of the medical costs.

According to the Shenzhen health authority, the municipal and district governments have allocated about 11 million yuan (US$1.36 million) for the project, which was first launched in 2000 in the Baoan District on a trial basis, where many migrant workers live.

So far, more than 7,000 women have benefited from the project, with more than 90 per cent of the beneficiaries being migrant labourers, said Lin.

Ma Feng, an ethnic Miao minority woman from Southwest China's Guizhou Province, is one of those beneficiaries.

Working in a local farm with her husband and brothers, Ma earns 25 yuan (US$3.08) a day. Because of their financial situation the family did not have the extra money for her to have prenatal check-ups, thereby missing out on the opportunity to detect any defects or illness in mother and baby.

Fortunately, the Baoan Healthcare Centre for Maternity and Children came to the rescue. In accordance with the scheme the hospital waived nearly two-thirds of her medical costs.

"We should thank the doctors, the hospital and the government's policies. Otherwise, poor families like ours could not afford such high cost treatment," said Ma.

The government aims to discourage pregnant women from giving birth in sub-standard hospitals or illegal private clinics, said Lin.

"The safety of both mother and child cannot be guaranteed in unqualified or illegal clinics, but still many people choose these hospitals because they can pay as little as 150 yuan (US$18) for a delivery," Lin said.

(China Daily August 4, 2005)

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