President Hu says state must shoulder health burden

Updated: 2006-10-25 10:33

BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao said his government must play a bigger role in providing medical care as the country seeks to narrow the gap in health care coverage for rich and poor, state media reported on Wednesday.

Hu told a meeting of senior officials on Tuesday that China will keep reforming its strained hospitals and clinics, heavily dependent on medical fees and often unaffordable for the poor.

"We must uphold the public welfare character of public health care, deepen reform of the medical system, strengthen government responsibility and have strict oversight and control," Hu told the Central Committee Politburo.

Hu promised to accelerate expansion of rural health care, long neglected by cash-strapped local governments focused on rapid economic growth.

"We must put our efforts into resolving shortages of doctors and medicine in parts of the countryside," he said.

Expensive medical bills, unreliable treatment and fake or tainted drugs are among Chinese citizens' loudest complaints, and Hu's government has made improving health care a priority.

But the scale of the rural-urban health gap defies easy solution.

Chinese cities hold 20 percent of the country's population but 80 percent of its medical resources, according to a World Health Organisation study.

One in three rural Chinese patients whom doctors advised to enter hospital did not, mainly because they could not afford to, a Chinese Health Ministry study found.

Hu said local governments now had to pick up more of the health care burden.

"Government at all levels must incorporate health care into their economic and social development plans," he said.