Page last updated at 01:52 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 02:52 UK

China healthcare under spotlight

By Jill McGivering
BBC News

A child is treated at a hospital in China's Zhejiang province (24 September 2008)
Medical help can be beyond the reach of many Chinese people

The UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, is launching a major series of scientific papers in Beijing on China's plans for healthcare reform.

The spotlight comes as the country is debating an ambitious programme which aims to provide health insurance for all its 1.3 billion people by 2020.

The Healthy China 2020 plan is intended to create a universal health service.

Critics say the Chinese health system presently falls far behind the needs of those it is supposed to be treating.

Changing needs

China is facing a real problem with this new phenomenon of health poverty where people either can't afford to get the care or else, having received the care, are then bankrupted by it
Bill Summerskill
Executive Editor, The Lancet

Primary healthcare, especially for the poor, disintegrated in recent decades when the old state system was dismantled and medical fees introduced.

Healthcare is a top public complaint - many cannot get access to it or simply cannot afford it. Many of the 700 million people in the countryside have to travel to cities to get decent care.

Bill Summerskill, the Lancet's executive editor, says the current system just is not working.

"More than half the money comes out of pocket. And if people end up in hospital, the average hospitalisation is greater than an average person's wage," he told the BBC.

"China is facing a real problem with this new phenomenon of health poverty. Where people either can't afford to get the care or else, having received the care, are then bankrupted by it," he added.

The government's recently unveiled plans for health insurance for all are being closely watched.

Many want to see if it is possible to introduce a system which covers 1.3 billion people, hundreds of millions of them still poor.

Money also needs to be poured into preventative medicine. Rapid social changes mean disease is changing too.

Shifts in diet and lifestyle - and widespread smoking - mean chronic diseases, including heart attacks, strokes and cancers, are set to increase dramatically.

About 177 million Chinese people have high blood pressure. At the moment, only about one in 10 gets adequate treatment.


SEE ALSO
China lung disease 'to kill 83m'
04 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing pollution efforts hailed
07 Aug 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Smoking ban for Chinese capital
01 May 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China unveils healthcare scheme
07 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese divided on health reforms
19 Oct 07 |  Asia-Pacific
The high price of illness in China
02 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
China's ailing health care
07 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
China's punctured health care system
28 Jun 08 |  From Our Own Correspondent

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific