China is seeing new health challenges, particularly chronic illnesses that need to be addressed more effectively by the government, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), warned Friday in Beijing.
The Hong Kong-born chief of the United Nations health agency made the remarks at a press conference after the Global Forum for Health Research, and the International Conference on the Development of Rural Primary Health Care held in Beijing through November 2.
Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes, and obesity used to be health problems diagnosed only in affluent countries. But now these illnesses are beginning to affect low- and middle-income countries due to unhealthy lifestyles and environmental problems, Chan said. Watching too much TV, overuse of Internet and especially smoking contributed to the problem.
China has one-third of the world’s tobacco smoking population. According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 1 million Chinese die every year from diseases related to smoking. “In the world, tobacco tops all mortality compared to tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined,” Chan said.
The WHO chief suggested countries including China take measures to reduce smoking to promote a healthier living environment. She said: “If the government does the economic assessment right, they will see the health burden from things like lung disease outweigh the revenue generated from selling tobacco.”
During her five-day visit to the Chinese capital, Chan had “very productive” meetings with top officials of ministries related to health and food safety and Beijing Olympics organizers. She visited two community health centers in the city and was impressed by China’s efforts to improve the medical care system, which currently covers more than 90 percent of 1.3 billion Chinese.
She noticed President Hu Jintao emphasized the central government’s determination to provide health service to all Chinese in his party congress report. Hu promised to build a universal coverage of medical care, especially in rural areas by 2020.
“In recent years China is showing a growing commitment in healthcare in the rural areas,” Chan said. “Poverty and illness have a very close relationship. People are driven to poverty because of medical bills.”
As China has one-fifth of the world’s population, the WHO chief suggested the country establish its own healthcare model, rather than copy other nations’ experiences. She was pleased with the government’s Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme, a plan where subscribers are funded 50 yuan per person – 20 yuan each from the central and local governments, and 10 yuan from the individual.