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China Plans 20 Bln Yuan to Narrow Rural-Urban Health Care Gap

China is determined to improve the grassroots health care system with a bigger budget, a senior health official said on the sidelines of the annual session of the country's top political advisory body.

"More than 20 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) will be allocated this year from the central budget and central and western governments to upgrade the township health institutions," deputy health minister Gao Qiang said.

He said the government's primary task is to work for grassroots medical institutions rather than for large hospitals to narrow the yawning gap of medicare between rural and urban areas.

Despite China's economic progress, its health care services, particularly in rural areas, have failed to keep pace as medical facilities are mainly concentrated in urban areas. Poorly-equipped rural clinics and a shortage of medical staff have restricted the quality and availability of medicare for farmers.

A report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2006 revealed that almost two thirds of the health funds was spent on urban areas covering only one third of the country's population.

He Wei, a political advisor from the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, advised setting up more rural clinics to improve the fairness of medical resources distribution.

Every 1,000 people in rural China share one village doctor. A total of 11.9 percent of villages had no village clinic by the end of 2006, according to He.

"If the priority was always given to big hospitals instead of grassroots clinics, the government goal that everyone in China has access to basic medicare could never be realized," said Gao Qiang.

The quality of grassroots medical staff, in addition, also needs to be increased, said Gao, since "poor facilities and limited funds have prevented them from getting proper training."

(Xinhua News Agency March 10, 2008)

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