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Urban doctors to provide rural services
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-10 00:18

Rural residents are to benefit from ever-stronger medical support from urban areas to help narrow their decades-old service gaps.

A 10,000-strong urban medical team will join in medical services and skills training at county level hospitals in three years, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday at a national health conference.

As part of China's efforts to improve rural medical care, the national project will start this June and cover 600 hospitals in poverty-stricken counties in central and western areas.

Ten per cent of the targeted hospitals will be specialized in traditional Chinese medicine treatment.

The plan is to dispatch five senior doctors from urban hospitals to each targeted hospital, each with at least half a year's service.

"The central government plans to subsidize each doctor 24,000 yuan (US$2,900) a year," said Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang.

The doctors are expected not only to undertake daily treatment but to be responsible for medical staff training and hospital management improvement.

Another pilot project to balance medical service gaps between urban and rural regions will begin this year in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

In Gansu, a number of medical staff from hospitals above county level will go to work for a year in clinics at lower levels.

The ministry will invest 25 million yuan (US$3 million) in the project.

"The province will also finance the project," said Wang Yancheng, head of the Gansu Health Bureau. "We plan to first launch it in 360 clinics."

"Once it proves successful, we will target the whole nation," said Gao Qiang.

In China, more than 70 per cent medical resources including hospitals, medicines and doctors are enjoyed by urban residents who only make up about 30 per cent of the country's total population.

Additionally, Gao said the ministry will continue to allocate no less than 3.7 billion yuan (US$4.5 billion) in 2005 to subsidize local medical care services nationwide, with a majority to be invested in rural areas.

This year will also witness the official initiation of the rural medical infrastructure construction programme jointly revised by the MOH and the National Development and Reform Commission.

Local authorities in various regions are prepared to invest in support of the programme.

"With a subsidy of 78 million yuan (US$9 million) from the central government, we will altogether invest 318 million yuan (US$38 million) in upgrading medical facilities of 573 local clinics," said Ma Jianzhong, head of the Henan Health Bureau in Central China.

As well a crucial step to establish a rural medical insurance system, the ongoing co-operative medical network project will be carried on steadily in 2005, said Gao Qiang.

Initiated in 2003, the programme has been launched in 333 counties, covering a rural population of 107 million. About 75 per cent of the counties have joined the scheme.

The co-operative medical system is a low-level insurance plan which mainly provides financial support for serious diseases of farmers who had no medical insurance in the past.

Generally, the system pools respectively 10 yuan (US$1.20) and 15 yuan (US$1.80) from each farmer and governments at various levels a year.

The network has collected a total of 3.2 billion yuan (US$387 million) in premiums.

The total number of new co-operatives is set to grow to at least 500 this year, said Zhu Qingsheng, also vice-minister of health, earlier in 2004 at a press briefing.

"No blind and hasty expansion of the network is allowed since it is a new trial and concerns farmers' interests," said Gao.

Gao also accented the reinforcement of prevention and control of the spread of contagious diseases in rural areas.

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