From Nov. 21 to 24, the world's weightiest conference on health promotion was held for the first time in China, the country with the world’s biggest population and thus the toughest health challenge.
Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, addresses at the opening ceremony of the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai, Nov. 21.
The 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion is currently wrapping up in Shanghai. Led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the conference convenes every four years and rotates host cities for each event. This year, 1,200 participants – including WHO officials and experts, health ministers and Health City mayors – gathered from 126 countries and regions. Solutions for a number of serious issues concerning global health promotion and equality have been discussed, with China playing a central role.
With a per capita GDP of $8,016 in 2015, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics, China is still inarguably a developing country, and it is fighting an uphill battle to lift its levels of national health.
A 2016 report by WHO showed that China is plagued by a high density of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and the prevalence of cigarettes in China is much greater than the world average. The percentage of China’s population with improved sanitation is lower than in emerging economy counterparts Argentina and Brazil. Its density of skilled health professionals is about average among West Pacific countries.
But despite health challenges including and ranging beyond the ones mentioned above, China has made commendable efforts in improving national health, winning accolades from world health officials.
On the conference's opening day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Vice Premier Liu Yandong and Health Chief Li Bin reported China's health progress to WHO Chief Margaret Chan and other attendees.
A few impressive numbers stood out in the report. In just over 25 years, China's total health expenditure increased from merely 11 billion RMB ($1.59 billion) in 1978 to 4.05 trillion RMB ($586 billion) in 2015. The country’s basic health insurance system now covers 95 percent of its population, or more than 1.3 billion people – more than the entire population of the African continent. Its national life expectancy has risen from 64 in 1980 to the current 76.3. The rural maternal death rate and rural infant mortality rate have dropped by 77 percent and 84 percent respectively in the past 25 years.
WHO Representative to China, Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, receives an interview with People's Daily Online, Nov. 23.
In an 10-minute exclusive interview with People's Daily online, WHO representative to China, Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, used the word "stellar" three times, while sharing his opinion of China's progress.
"China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Of course, poverty is very much linked to health and the health status of the population. We have seen, over the last generation, a cut in maternal mortality by fourfold. And today, a person living in Shanghai can expect to live longer on average than a person living in the United States of America. These are massive achievements that China has seen," Schwartländer said.
In the interview, he rated China's efforts in curbing child mortality, its vaccine system and hepatitis B control as "outstanding in the whole world," and stated that health insurance coverage in China "is a real success story that we have hardly seen in other countries."
"Virtually every child now born in China – wherever they live, in the eastern cities, in the western part, where people are very poor and very often in rural areas – they [have] basic coverage of vaccines. Also, hepatitis B used to be very prevalent in China, but the young generation born today is virtually hepatitis B-free, which is a stellar success and the best practice in the world," he said.
At the conference, China reiterated its commitment to the "Health China 2030" blueprint. Released in October, the blueprint’s 29 chapters set out measurable and ambitious health targets to be achieved by 2030, along with strict guidelines for public health services, environment management and many more sectors.
Schwartländer said he is "very confident" about China realizing its targets. The top reason he cited for that confidence is the nation’s strong leadership.
"China's massive increase of expenditures in the health system has led to the coverage of many health services, which are now at a level that we see in many Western countries, richer countries. This is a reflection on the political leadership.
"Also in this conference, we have seen such a dramatic expression of the leadership – that Premier Li Keqiang came to open this meeting, that President Xi Jinping himself has made health a centerpiece of his work. So China clearly has strong leadership. And that, of course, gives great confidence," he said.