State Council reorganises health and family planning roles in name of efficiency

Reorganising work of ministry, family planning commission will be 'great challenge', minister says; new food-safety regulator also coming

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 6:38am

The functions of the Health Ministry and some of those of the Population and Family Planning Commission will be merged and a new food and drug safety regulator with ministerial-level status formed, the State Council has announced.

The rest of the work of the commission - on population policy and strategy - is to be taken on by the chief economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

The stated goal of the changes is to optimise the allocation of resources to medical care, public health and family planning services and improve the health of newborn babies and the population as a whole.

Cai Fang , director of the Institute of Population and Labour Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the moves did not signal any changes to family planning policy nor a loosening of birth controls, but were simply aimed at improving efficiency.

Deputy health minister Huang Jiefu , welcomed the restructuring.

He said the Population and Family Planning Commission needed abolishing because "times have changed". The decision to combine its family planning and birth control functions with the work of the Health Ministry under a new national health and family planning commission was "in accordance with the global trend", he said.

Still, Huang said the restructuring would be a "great challenge" because "many departments need to be integrated and officials have to find their place".

The health ministry has a long history of performing family planning work.

In 1964, when the State Council established a Family Planning Commission, the work was carried out by the health department in some provinces and continued even after the commission was cancelled.

In 1973, an executive office to support the State Council's new Family Planning Leadership Taskforce was established in the Ministry of Health to offer technical support for birth control including the supply of drugs and devices.

Shenzhen piloted a similar reorganisation in 2009, creating a Commission for Health, Population and Family Planning which serves as the city's health and population authority and is responsible for the co-ordination of food safety regulation.

The other part of the restructuring will see the functions of the State Food and Drug Administration, which has been under the administration of the Health Ministry since 2008, together with those of several other agencies, placed in the hands of a new, ministerial-level agency.

This new General Administration of Food and Drugs will be responsible for supervising food and drug safety. It will take over the work of departments including the State Council's Food Safety Office and take on food supervision duties from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

The new commission will be responsible for assessing food safety risks and setting food safety standards.

The Agriculture Ministry will remain responsible for the quality and safety of farm produce. Wu Yongning, a food safety expert with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said it was unrealistic to count on supervision alone to ensure the safety of food, which should be overseen at the production stage.