An estimated 5,500 doctors and nurses from Chinese cities will be sent to the countryside this year where qualified medical professionals are in short supply.
During a twelve-month stay at rural posts, they will be expected to help treat rural patients, introduce new facilities, and train local medical staff on diagnosis and operation techniques, according to the Ministry of Health.
It is part of a three-year program, "Ten Thousand Medics Support Rural Health Project,” launched in 2005 to improve health service conditions in the countryside.
The program has reached out to 600 county hospitals and 1,300 rural clinics in impoverished farming regions.
Wang Jun, vice minister of finance, said the central government has invested 500 million yuan in the program and a few local governments have also given financial support for the program.
"It is an important program that will help narrow the gap between medical services in urban and rural areas," said Health Minister Gao Qiang on Tuesday at a televised workshop broadcast to all levels of health departments.
So far, nearly 10,000 urban medical staff have assumed their temporary rural posts and treated 2 million patients, in addition to training about 560,000 rural doctors and nurses, Gao said.
The project will most likely be extended after a Tuesday letter from Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi to the workshop, praising the success of the project and urging the establishment of a lasting mechanism to support the rural health sector.
"The project is an important measure to balance the development of health services between urban and rural regions, and a lasting mechanism should be set up to prolong this practice into the future," Wu said in the letter.
Medical resources are scarce in rural China, compared to urban areas. The country's social security system covers the majority of urban residents, while most rural dwellers are not yet protected by the system.
China's State Council adopted a five-year plan in March to further develop the country's public health system, promising to establish a basic medical and health care network covering all urban and rural residents by the end of 2010.
A gynecologist in central Hubei Province, after returning home from her rural posting, said on the day she arrived many farmers trekked miles over mountains to see her for medical treatment or simply to seek advice.
Cao Laiying said she had treated 2,668 patients in 40 villages and participated in 268 operations in the past year.
"Sometimes you have to waste hours on bumpy mountain roads before you get to see the patient. But at the end of my posting, I was delighted that not a single woman died during pregnancy in the county where I stayed," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency April 4, 2007)