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'Hospitals on wheels' to offer farmers health care
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-02 09:02

Most counties in central and western China will soon have mobile hospitals to ensure basic health care for poverty-stricken rural residents.

The central government has equipped counties in the region with 1,004 coaches to provide door-to-door health care for farmers.

The National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Health have invested 230 million yuan (US$27.7 million) in the programme.

A source at the commission said an additional 800 coaches bought with treasury bonds will be put into use at the end of this year.

"We aim to equip every county in western and central China with a mobile hospital," Li Shenglin, vice-minister of the commission said on Saturday in Beijing.

The coaches will mainly be used in common disease diagnosis, small operations, health check-ups and health education for the farmers, who live kilometres away from cities and towns.

Under the close supervision of provincial governments, county-level hospitals will use the vehicles to conduct medical check-ups related to AIDS and other contagious diseases.

Li said the programme was part of the central government's efforts to develop a sound health care system in rural areas. He said the system in rural areas should be improved.

Local officials and residents offered a cautious welcome.

Xiong Guanglin, the mayor of the city of Bazhong in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, said investment in the health sectors in western rural areas is particularly low, compared with other areas.

"Shocking statistics will have a say in how much investment the rural areas needs," said Xiong.

In his city, more than 90 per cent of women in urban areas give birth in hospital, while about 90 per cent of babies are born at home in the countryside. While more than 90 per cent of deaths in urban areas occur in hospital, more than 90 per cent of people pass away at home in rural areas.

Xiong also said that 70 per cent of the nation's population living in rural areas enjoy just 30 per cent of the nation's resources in the health and medicare sectors.

"A simple comparison can reveal a great deal," Xiong said. "When putting an end to hasty investments, the fact that some rural regions are in dire need of investment should not be overlooked."

In some poor areas in China, farmers have to pay medical bills themselves. These poor farmers cannot afford to pay for a medical check-up, so they often do not bother. Farmers become poorer, and their health suffers, forming a vicious circle forms.

The government is working hard to set up such a system in rural areas.

A source with the Ministry of Health said the central government has allocated 10 yuan (US$1.2) annually to every rural resident in central and western China since last year to help them join a new medical insurance scheme.

The plan, which will also collect 10 yuan (US$1.2) for each rural resident from local governments and the same amount from each rural resident, is aimed at finding a way to help poverty-stricken rural residents afford expensive medical treatment for serious illnesses.

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