Track maternal healthcare

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, September 23, 2011
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China needs to reenergize its healthcare system for women and children.

The economic boom has raised life expectancy and cut child mortality. But health services, particularly in rural areas, have failed to keep up. The huge gap between urban and rural health services is a reminder of the challenges facing the government.

China issued its first annual report on healthcare for women and children on Wednesday. It found that such diseases as breast cancer, cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS and syphilis are major threats to Chinese women's health, and premature birth, pneumonia and congenital heart disease are the main killers of our children.

China met the target set out in the UN's Millennium Development Goals for the mortality of children five years old and under in 2009 with a decline of 71.8 percent based on the 1991 level. But the yawning gap between urban and rural health is highlighted by nutritional deficiencies among students in poor rural areas.

While there is the burgeoning epidemic of childhood obesity in urban and economically developed areas, many rural children suffer from deficiencies of calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin A.

Surveys have found that less than 3 percent of the country's county-level healthcare institutions for women and children have adequate facilities. And the healthcare institutions for women and children are badly in need of medical workers.

Building up a solid healthcare system should be a government priority. We are gratified to see that the government has determined to increase the budget and improve the health system at the grassroots, especially in rural areas.

Since 2009, China has provided expectant mothers in rural areas with subsidies to deliver at hospitals, notably lowering the maternal mortality rate.

The government must continue to respond to the critical need for increased attention to the health of women and children. Large disparities in the health, growth and nutrition of children, and in the accessibility and quality of child healthcare between urban and rural areas and across different regions, should top the agenda of the country's health officials.

In June, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved two 10-year plans for women and children running from this year to 2020. They lay out more than 100 goals in seven areas for women and five for children, including health, education and social welfare. Premier Wen Jiabao presided over a meeting on urging local authorities to map out their programs for women and children and set up approaches to delivering on their commitments.

Programs should be made operational through strong commitments within the national health plan and through the government health financing and programming architecture. A systematic approach should be developed to track progress and to hold all local authorities accountable for delivery on policy, outcome and financing commitments.

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