Health Minister Chen Zhu has pledged to remove all inequalities in basic health care by 2020 and give all citizens the same access to basic health care. He told officials at the 2008 National Health Conference the mainland would work to remove all the disparities in basic health care provision, particularly those between urban and rural areas, by 2020. 'Universal entitlement [to basic health care] means fair entitlement. All citizens, regardless of their age, gender, occupation, location and income level, should enjoy the same rights,' the ministry's website quoted Mr Chen as saying yesterday. Basic health care services included disease prevention, immunisation, health education, hygiene supervision, care for infants and mothers, mental health, public health emergencies, blood collection, food safety, prevention of occupational diseases, safe drinking water, as well as applying basic drugs and proper procedures to diagnose and treat chronic diseases. Mr Chen said the prioritisation of basic health-care services should help ensure efficient investment according to the mainland's financial situation. He urged ministries and local governments to work together to adopt 'concrete measures' to remove disparities of access between rural and urban dwellers, as well as people from different groups and regions. While government officials and employees of state enterprises enjoy almost full coverage of medical insurance, most rural dwellers have little or no coverage although the government has pledged to expand its rural medical co-operative scheme to all rural residents. But analysts have pointed out that loopholes in the scheme mean many residents are still falling into poverty after illness. Mr Chen said the central government should consider social and economic factors when allocating resources for health care, and devise a public health assessment system to improve resource allocation. He also pledged that the government would ensure public health safety during the Beijing Olympics by strengthening disease monitoring and emergency response and medical treatment capabilities. 'The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games provides a great opportunity for the country's public health development. Beijing will join hands with co-host cities and its neighbouring provinces to strengthen disease- related information monitoring and make risk evaluations on the possible public health accidents,' he said. 'Great efforts will be made in preventing rabies, bird flu, Sars and group poisonings,' Xinhua quoted Mr Chen as saying. China had invested 2.7 billion yuan to improve health-care infrastructure in rural areas last year, the report said. Mr Chen told the conference the government should take the lead in health care. He unveiled the road map for health care reform at a National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting last week. Vice-Premier Wu Yi told the same conference that China would highlight rural and community health care services as well as the development of traditional medicine as its policy priorities.