Injection of cash helps healthcare

10:18, May 25, 2011      

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China will increase its funding for basic public healthcare services by two-thirds this year - to more than 30 billion yuan ($4.62 billion) - something that will improve coverage for vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and the elderly, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday.

The change means government funding for basic healthcare services will rise to 25 yuan per person this year from 15 yuan in 2010. The new funds will be used to enlarge beneficiary groups, improve effectiveness and expand available services, said Qin Huaijin, acting director of the ministry's department of maternal and child health and community healthcare.

From this year, basic medical services that used to only cover children under 3 will be provided to everyone under 6, making 48 million more children eligible. By the end of 2010, 81.5 percent of children under 3 had received services, including doctors' home visits to families with newborn babies, vaccinations and health check-ups, Qin said at a news conference.

Chen Bowen, director of the health and development department at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, said such efforts had proved very helpful in the early detection of diseases among children.

"The infant mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate in China have continued to decline, thanks in large part to the free medical services.

"The program also enabled us to identify problems early. For example, we found high morbidity rates of anemia and rickets in many parts of China, even in the more wealthy eastern provinces," Chen said.

Free healthcare services will also be provided to more pregnant women and people older than 65. In 2010, 84 percent of pregnant women and nearly half of people older than 65 were covered by the program, Qin added.

The program also helped 46.4 million people with hypertension, diabetes and serious mental illnesses in 2010. Plans for 2011 call for the inclusion of 19 million more patients with those problems, he said.

More funding will also be directed at grassroots medical institutions, which are now required to strengthen the monitoring of food safety, infectious diseases and public health emergencies.

"Healthcare providers have better contacts with people at the grassroots level and will be heavily relied upon to collect firsthand information about food safety incidents and other public health risks," Qin said.

Integrating migrant workers and their families into the program will also be a major challenge, but some places are already offering tentative solutions by allocating part of their funds for migrant workers, the ministry said.

Two years after China launched reforms of the national healthcare system in April 2009 with an investment of at least 850 billion yuan over three years, the Ministry of Health noted that major implementation problems rested with lax administration of funding, poor accountability and inadequate services.

Liu Liqun, director of the community health division at the ministry, said the Center for Project Supervision and Management, an institution responsible for monitoring the use of healthcare funds, will conduct independent inspections and evaluations across the country to find out how and where the money is being spent and whether it is achieving the desired results.

The central government provides part of the funding for free basic medical services, covering 80 percent of the costs for western regions, 60 percent for central areas, and between 10 and 50 percent for eastern regions, Liu said.

Source:China Daily
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