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Public Healthcare System Gets Millions for Upgrade
China's health authorities have determined to improve the nation's public healthcare system by pumping in more cash and manpower so it can better respond to future emergencies and disease outbreaks, such as SARS, a top health official announced on Friday in Beijing.

"We will not allow such problems (as SARS) to happen again (in the future),'' said Executive Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang at a press conference hosted by the Information Office of the State Council. He said that the SARS epidemic has started to be "effectively controlled'' in China. Cases of the flu-like virus began to decline gradually in late May.

Taking Beijing as an example, the city then designated 19 SARS-only hospitals for would be patients, but, reflecting demand, that number has now been reduced to seven.

The Chinese mainland on Friday reported seven new SARS cases, with six from existing suspected patients.

The central government has allocated 2.9 billion yuan (US$350 million) to help every province, city and county to set up their own disease control and prevention centres in the coming two years, said Gao.

Meanwhile, a total of 1.7 billion yuan (US$200 million) has been allocated to improve the present Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

China's healthcare system, especially that in rural areas, is quite backward in many respects, such as grass-roots medical facilities and medical insurance for farmers, Wang Lusheng, vice-director of China National Health Economics Institute, said in an interview with China Daily.

In the coming years the investment from central government in the system is likely to reach dozens of billions of yuan, said Wang.

A sound information transmission and disease surveillance network will be set up in the country to timely identify and report not only incidence of SARS, but other infectious diseases, Gao said.

Up to now, governments at various levels across the country have spent more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) buying and improving medical equipment and hospitals in the fight against SARS.

Gao also said there was no reason for would be travellers to fear making visits to China as the disease outbreak situation differs enormously from place to place.

Among all the probable SARS cases reported on the Chinese mainland, about 97 per cent have been from South China's Guangdong Province and North China's Beijing Municipality, Shanxi Province, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality, while cases on the mainland's other 20 plus provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities only account for 3 per cent, he continued.

And Gao emphasized no evidence has been found that those who have recovered from the disease are capable of transmitting it to others.

He urged the society not to discriminate against SARS patients who have been discharged from hospitals upon recovery.

He said some companies have asked employees who had recovered from SARS to take extra time off to convalesce, but "firing them is absolutely forbidden.''

Turning to the SARS situation in Taiwan, Gao urged the island's authorities to take more concrete measures to combat the disease.

He said that apportioning blame would not help to curb the spread of SARS in Taiwan.

He branded as irresponsible remarks made in some quarters in Taiwan that "the mainland was responsible for SARS spreading in Taiwan.''

The first official report of SARS on the Chinese mainland was on February 11, while the first reported case in Taiwan was on March 15.

That meant the Taiwan authorities had adequate warnings and time to implement SARS prevention measures.

"We are concerned for SARS patients whether they are on the Chinese mainland or in Taiwan,'' said Gao, adding that central government has taken practical measures to help Taiwan.

In another development, Gao confirmed that an AIDS sufferer has been infected with SARS.

Gao said the man, from Shanxi, had been positively diagnosed as having SARS last Saturday in Beijing You'an Hospital.

Last year the patient underwent medical treatment for AIDS at the same hospital. When he became ill recently with fever symptoms, his family arranged for him to go back to You'an Hospital, where he travelled directly by taxi.

The patient made no stops on his way to the hospital, nor has he transmitted the disease to others, Gao stressed.

(China Daily May 31, 2003)

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