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10-year Health Scheme Huge Success, Study Says

Significant progress has been made on improving maternal and child health in the country's poorest rural regions, thanks to a collaborative project on basic health services, which concluded on Friday after 10 years of operation, researchers from the World Health Organization have said.

A comparison of the baseline and end-of-project surveys showed a 42.4-percent decrease in maternal mortality rates (MMR) in project counties, and a 49.8-percent reduction in infant mortality rates (IMR) and a 52-percent cut in under-five mortality rates in provincial level results.

Researchers attribute the progress to the eighth health project launched by the government with the aid of loans and support from the World Bank and its Health VIII (HVIII), or China Basic Health Services, project. The organization provided US$85 million in loans over the decade.

After three years in design, HVIII began in September 1998, with the aim of improving the health status of China's poorest rural counties.

A year later, the British Department for International Development (DFID) joined the effort through its Health VIII Support Project (HVIIISP), with 21 million (US$42 million) in donations and the goal of improving access to healthcare for the poor and vulnerable.

When components of the Qinba poverty reduction project were integrated into HVIII in the same year, the project had grown to include 97 of China's poorest rural counties in 10 provinces, and covered a population of 46.78 million.

As well as reducing MMR and IMR rates and improving access by cutting financial barriers, HVIII/HVIIISP sought to enhance institutional capacity building at the county level by influencing planning and resources allocation, enhancing technical expertise, strengthening linkages between levels of services and supporting personnel reforms.

It "has not only realized its anticipated goals, but also provided precious practical experience and research outcomes for ongoing national rural health reforms and development," Wang Longde, deputy chief of the Ministry of Health (MOH), said.

According to an external evaluation report, HVIII/HVIIISP began when the country's attempts to revive its long collapsed cooperative medical scheme (CMS) within the emerging market system was encountering major setbacks.

(China Daily June 23, 2007)

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