Anhui governor Li Bin , the only female governor on the mainland, has become the frontrunner to succeed Dr Chen Zhu as health minister, sources say.
Li's appointment would accompany a bigger role for the health ministry with a government restructuring plan expected to be approved during the annual session of the National People's Congress, a source close to the matter said.
The source said the National Population and Family Planning Commission would be scrapped and integrated into other agencies. After the abandonment of a plan to integrate the whole commission into the health ministry, its family planning section would merge with the ministry of health and its population section would go to the National Development and Reform Commission.
A senior health official said yesterday the next health chief would be a woman.
Shanghai vice-mayor Shen Xiaoming , a renowned paediatrician and a former president of Shanghai's top-level Xinhua Hospital, had also once been considered for the post of health minister, sources said.
The ministry's party secretary, vice-minister Zhang Mao , is expected to head the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, with another vice-minister, Yin Li, a contender to head the upgraded State Food and Drug Administration, which will be detached from the Ministry of Health and become a ministry-level agency after integrating with other government agencies.
Chen, who was elected chairman of the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party in December, is expected to become a "state leader" as a vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, filling a vacancy left by the party's former chairman, Sang Guowei.
A haematologist by training and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Science, Chen is expected to still play a big role in the mainland's medical sector. His party, founded in Shanghai in 1930, is mainly made up of intellectuals in the fields of medicine, health, population policy and the environment.
Li, 58, was appointed governor of Anhui only a year ago after spending more than four years at the National Population and Family Planning Commission, first as a deputy minister and then as its minister.
She has a doctorate in economics from Jilin University and has spent most of her political career in Jilin province, where she was in charge of civil affairs, health, population and family planning for six years as deputy governor before being promoted to Beijing.
She started out as a teacher at the Changchun Institute of Education and then a junior party official in charge of propaganda in Changchun .
Her first provincial-level post came in 1994, serving as deputy director of Jilin's planning commission for four years, followed by four years in charge of the province's economic reforms.