Only half of nation able to see doctors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 12:00am

Rising fees plus a lack of resources and government funds are to blame

A lack of resources, rising medical fees and a dearth of government funds mean only half the mainland's population are able to consult a doctor when they are sick, a senior health official says.

Vice-Health Minister Gao Qiang said a nationwide survey last year indicated that 48.9 per cent of mainlanders did not go to hospital when they needed medical care and 29.6 per cent of patients had cut short their stays in hospital.

Addressing a national health work conference in Beijing yesterday, Mr Gao said medical resources were insufficient and unevenly distributed.

He said China had 22 per cent of the world's population but just 2 per cent of its medical resources, much of which were of very low quality.

Eighty per cent of the facilities were also concentrated in urban areas and the remaining 20 per cent could not be easily accessed by rural residents.

Mr Gao said that another reason for the lack of care on the mainland was low medical insurance coverage.

About 45 per cent of urban residents and 79 per cent of people living in rural areas were without coverage.

Mr Gao said medical fees had outpaced growth in personal income over the past eight years, with outpatient charges growing by 13 per cent.

The average cost of a hospital stay had increased by 11 per cent while urban incomes had risen by 8.9 per cent.

Vice-Health Minister Zhu Qingsheng estimated in November that 40 to 60 per cent of farmers in central and western regions could not afford medical care and 60 to 80 per cent of mainlanders died at home because they could not meet health-care costs.

He said the bulk of spending on the country's medical system came out of individual pockets and added that the government needed to increase its contribution from 15 per cent.

Mr Gao said some of the ministry's targets this year were to strengthen the public health infrastructure, prevent the spread of serious diseases, reform the rural health system and curb price rises for medicine.

One measure will see more than 10,000 doctors sent from urban areas to provide medical services to villagers and help train their rural counterparts in the use of new technology.

The scheme, to be launched before the end of June, would benefit 600 county-level hospitals in its first year, Xinhua quoted Mr Gao as saying.

The Beijing conference was also attended by Vice-Premier and Health Minister Wu Yi , who said the health system still faced serious challenges.

She stressed the need to control the price of drugs, adding that the authorities should stamp out malpractices in the sales of drugs and provision of medical services.