Expert recommends measures to cope with future outbreaks A public health expert has called on the central government to allocate funds for the treatment of infectious diseases, in preparation for future epidemics. Lei Haichao, director of health economics and social medicine studies at the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, noted that the government was increasing funding for medical facilities and upgrading infectious diseases hospitals. He added that it should also ensure the public could afford these services. 'Before Sars, no matter what diseases one suffered, whether [you could] afford treatment depended on who you are or what your job was,' he said. Mr Lei said only 100 million urban residents among the country's 1.3 billion population enjoyed medical insurance. Only public servants and state enterprise employees enjoy compulsory medical insurance. The government has started setting up medical insurance co-operatives in rural areas, but the coverage remains limited. During the Sars outbreak, the government promised to cover the medical bills of poor patients. Mr Lei said the high cost could discourage people from seeking treatment during future outbreaks. He said setting up special funds to cover treatment costs would help address this problem. Under a draft plan approved by the State Council, designated hospitals will be expanded and hospitals reserved for infectious diseases will be built this year and next, the China News Service said yesterday. Mr Lei said the government should make better use of current resources instead of investing huge amounts on new facilities. The Beijing disease-control centre had called for expanding existing hospitals' capacity for treating infectious diseases instead of building new facilities, he said. Beijing's Ditan and You'an hospitals are set for expansion to handle outbreaks of infectious diseases. Mr Lei believes Ditan will be eventually moved to the suburbs because it is currently too close to densely populated areas.