Gong Zhining was considering giving up treating his emphysema. As a farmer in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, he could hardly afford visiting a hospital at the Longde County seat twice a year at a cost of 4,000 yuan (US$500).
The disease has dragged his family into abject poverty -- his sons, one aged 31 and the other 27, are too poor to get married.
But Gong may soon benefit from a rural cooperative medical system launched by the Chinese government which aims to offer medical services to every patient in rural villages.
Geng Guang, a farmer in Taiyuan of north China's Shanxi Province, is one of the beneficiaries of the cooperative medical system. He paid more than 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) for a cranial surgery last month. However, he obtained a refund of 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) since taking part in a pilot project of the rural cooperative medical system.
Under the rural cooperative medical system, a farmer can get a reimbursement of up to 10,000 yuan.
By last June, 641 counties were designated to experiment with the cooperative medical system, which covers 160 million farmers. The central government earmarked 5 billion yuan (US$625 million) as subsidies for the medicare scheme, which benefited 100 million Chinese farmers.
China plans to popularize the rural cooperative medical system step by step and spread it to all rural villages by 2008, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said.
China has 900 million farmers. Decades ago, the government covered the major part of medical expenses for farmers under a rural medical system. The system ceased operation in the early 1980s. Since then, Chinese farmers have mainly had to cope with diseases on their own. The majority of them find it difficult to get timely and economic medical treatment.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that 33 percent of rural patients do not see doctors when they are ill and 45 percent of rural inpatients leave hospitals before they are cured.
In 2003, China launched a new type rural cooperative medical system, under which, the government and farmers combined efforts in raising funds to help farmers afford medical cost for major diseases. l
Yin Yanxiang, an official in charge of rural medicare in Shanxi Province, said "A comprehensive health care and medical system is needed in rural China to ensure farmers' access to medical services."
Recently, the State Council called on governments at all levels to put health development in rural areas on top of their agenda and view it as a major task in the course of building a "new socialist countryside."
"The farmers will be provided with safe, effective, convenient and low-cost health service" with the new medical system, according to a document recently released by an executive meeting of the State Council.
China will train, guide and encourage more health workers and medical college graduates to seek jobs in rural clinics and encourage medical staff in urban hospitals to offer services or professional guidance for rural doctors.
(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2006)