A boy recieves treatment at Beijing Children's Hospital on March 19. The facility has recieved up tp 40-50 percent more patients suffering with colds since mid-March due to the sudden change of temperature.(Source: China Daily)
BEIJING, April 7 -- Wafts of heavy perspiration fill the air as hurried footsteps and babies' cries echo through the narrow corridor. Doctor Li Zhi lets out a sigh, he knows it will be another trying day at the clinic.
At this time of year, hundreds of patients crowd his medical center in Yijiahe village, Jiangxi province. The facility is run by four general practitioners (GPs), including Li's parents, and is in a region taking part in a pilot rural cooperative medical care system launched in 2005.
The 160-sq-m surgery is stocked with three beds, three computers and medical equipment partly paid for by the government.
"Although we are obviously short-handed, at least the trial is allowing us to run a good facility now," 28-year-old Li told China Daily last month.
Li's parents have been village doctors for more than four decades - Li even remembers being carried on his mother's back as she made her rounds - and his experience has given him an intimate view of the country's medical system from a grassroots level.
It is also why he was eagerly anticipating the latest measures in the countrywide medical reform, which the authorities announced yesterday.
"Nothing much has changed since the previous healthcare reform in the 1990s, with many village doctors still working from their humble homes and lacking adequate medical equipment, medicine and knowledge," said Li, who believes the reforms will bring new hope to 650,000 villages of better healthcare.
China yesterday unveiled a roadmap to healthcare over the next decade after more than 24 months of intense debate and repeated revision, along with a more detailed implementation plan for the next three years. The plan has yet to be published in full but the State Council announced this year an investment plan of 850 billion yuan ($124 billion) for the reform, which will be aimed at "solving pressing problems that have caused strong complaints from the public".
According to the health reform plan draft passed this year by the State Council, the country's cabinet, priority will also be given to a more affordable and accessible healthcare system, allowing citizens to save on medical costs and increase their purchasing power in other areas.
Fees at public hospitals will be a top concern, with a system that tracks the most prescribed medicines to help authorities lower prices for patients, explained Liu Xue'en, a professor with the department of health economics and management at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, in a recent interview.
Similarly, the government has also pledged to build 2,000 county hospitals and 5,000 township clinics in rural areas in the next three years, extending medical services and making them more affordable.
Health Minister Chen Zhu said on Feb 19 that besides speeding up the construction of medical facilities, the coming healthcare reform plan will also stress the need to train more medical practitioners to meet the rising need for better healthcare.
However, Li stressed that the shortage of medical professionals is one of the most pressing problems the reform must solve.
The situation now is not much different from when his father, now 61, worked with village doctors in his heyday, Li said. A doctors' bag then was equipped with only stethoscopes, thermometer, and blood pressure gauges. They treated their patients the best way they could anytime, anywhere with rudimentary tools, which earned them the nickname "barefoot doctors".
In large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, millions of graduates majoring in medicine are said to be avoiding rural postings, while some even opt to switch careers due to the tight competition in the urban market.
"The market for doctors in Beijing has been saturated for more than a decade," said Dong Shu, 27, a postgraduate from the health science center at Peking University. But despite being wary of a bleak future for the medical profession, she nevertheless felt lucky to get a job at the university's No 3 Hospital this year. "Most of my classmates have to opt for small clinics or try something unrelated to medicine to deal with the cost of living in the city," she added.