Too few qualified healthcare workers
What's the weakest link in China's healthcare system?
Finance, infrastructure and governmental attention are all candidates, but Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang Thursday suggested it might be the shortage of qualified professionals, particularly in rural areas and the public healthcare system.
Bolstering medical service and improving the public's ability to ward off infectious diseases are seen by Gao's ministry as priority tasks over the next few years.
Learning from the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the central government has made great efforts to improve China's public healthcare system and medical service in the rural areas.
These efforts include increasing financial investment, building infrastructure, and revamping policy and programmes, Gao said at a two-day national health conference that opened Thursday in Beijing.
"However, one thing might be most important and it has been ignored. We must greatly strengthen talent-building in the various health fields," Gao told the conference.
Without qualified people, the investment, advanced equipment and various improvement projects will mean nothing, he noted.
Official statistics indicate the rural areas, with 70 per cent of the country's population, have less than 30 per cent of the medical resources.
Moreover, high-level healthcare professionals usually do not want to work in rural areas, choosing instead to throng to big city hospitals.
Nationwide, the number of doctors with a master's degree or higher accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of their total.
In the public health system, the situation is even worse, Gao said, noting: "In many disease control centres (CDC) at the county level I have visited, about 90 per cent of the staff are not professional workers."
Gao's concerns were echoed by Li Malin, vice-president of Kunming Medical College, who told China Daily that medical students usually hesitate to work in CDCs due to the poor attention from government and society, and low-level income.
And in Chinese medical universities, public health education has long been ignored. For example, for every 50 students majoring in public health, more than 1,000 are pursuing degrees in the field of clinical healthcare.
The shortage of qualified doctors and public healthcare workers is also greatly impacting the control of HIV/AIDS, said Gui Xi'en.
Gui is a renowned HIV/AIDS expert who first discovered the HIV/AIDS epidemic among hundreds of farmers in Central China's Henan Province was caused by illegal blood sales.
Gui said there is a serious lack of experienced doctors in the HIV/AIDS epidemic areas, and most of the work of providing free anti-virus medicines for AIDS patients is being done by village doctors who usually have little knowledge of anti-AIDS treatments.
As a result many rural HIV/AIDS sufferers have given up on the treatment or refused to take the drugs under medical supervision, Gui said.
The Ministry of Health will increrase efforts to improve the training of doctors, trying to change the situation that advanced skills are reserved for doctors in big medical institutes, Gao said.