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Rural medical service needs funding
( 2003-08-20 10:48) (China Daily)

The new administrative regulation on the management of medical practitioners in the countryside will breath new life into the rebuilding of the country's rural heath system. But more fiscal incentives are crucial to its success.

Premier Wen Jiabao recently signed a decree issuing the Regulation on the Management of Medical Practitioners in the Countryside, which will take effect next year.

According to the new regulation, all country doctors will have to apply for a professional certificate to practice medicine.

Implementation of such a regulation will help improve the professional skills and ethics of country doctors as well as enhancing the management of medical practitioners.

That is clearly good news for villagers who are eager for better primary medical care.

Though rural people make up about two-thirds of the nation's 1.3 billion population, there were just over 1 million doctors in rural areas of the country at the end of 2001. And some part-time doctor's positions were held by farmers with only a limited knowledge of medicine.

The professional training dictated by the new regulation for all country doctors will bring about an upgrade of the rural health system improving the overall level of rural health service.

The country's rural health system has long needed such a major overhaul. The new regulation demonstrates the central authorities' firm grasp of the disturbing reality of the rural health situation.

The Chinese economy has achieved remarkable progress over the past two decades of reform and opening up. Yet, economic growth, by itself, has proved to be not enough to solve all the problems the country has faced and is facing in the course of its development.

The country's obsolete rural health system typifies the imbalance in development of the country's rural and urban areas.

The yawning development gap between rural and urban areas has been strongly felt in the area of medical service, where it affects the general health level of the people.

It is estimated that less than one-quarter of the country's total medical expenditures in 2000 went to the country's nearly 900 million rural people, even though they make up an overwhelming majority of the country's population.

The proportion of beds in rural hospitals was also slashed from 60 per cent of the country's total in 1982 to only 34.2 per cent in 2001.

These figures reveal the bitter fact that many rural people who fall ill cannot afford to see a doctor. And in some regions, such unfortunate cases have thrown rural families back into poverty, negating the government's long-term effort to abolish it.

Insufficient funding, obviously, is a major cause of the current inadequacies in rural health work. Lack of government expenditure on health work has put a heavy financial burden on both farmers and local hospitals.

Sustainable development can only be based on balanced development of various sectors, including the medical system.

If the new regulation is to beef up the underdeveloped rural health system, it is necessary for the government to provide funds to make the envisioned changes a reality.

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