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China Evaluates New Rural Medical Care System

China will evaluate pilot projects of a new rural medical care system to insure farmers' health, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.

The evaluation will cover counties in 29 provincial areas that first carried out the new rural medical care system in 2003. An expert team will carry out face-to-face surveys with farmers.

"It is expected to sum up past experiences and work out the problems and the solutions," said an official with the ministry.

China has 900 million rural people, and more than 700 million remain in the countryside and live in poor conditions. This is why China has tilted its policy focus toward rural development.

China launched the rural cooperative medical care system in some provinces on a trial basis in 2003 and it had covered 671 counties with a total of 177 million rural residents by 2005.

Earlier this month, the government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao to the 4th session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) said the central government decided to double government allowances of 20 yuan (US$2.5) this year for each farmer participating in the rural cooperative medical care system.

"This means that farmers will be less worried about expensive medical treatment," the official said. With the new policy, a farmer puts 10 yuan (US$1.25) a year into his personal medical care account and the government injects another 40 yuan (US$5) into his account. Then, the government will pay a maximum of 65 percent of his medical charges a year.

Several days ago, the Ministry of Finance announced that the central government will increase the government allowance for rural medical care to 4.73 billion yuan (around US$500 million). This increase also echoed the premier's promise to expand the scope of current trials to 1,145, or 40 percent of its counties this year.

The health official stressed that a monitoring and administrating system on medicine in rural areas will also be set up in the near future.

Wen promised in his government work report that by 2008, the basics of a Rural Health Care Service System and a rural medical assistance system should be in place in all rural areas.

The Chinese government increased input in health care in rural areas when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) ran riot in the country in 2003. A total of 10.5 billion yuan (US$1.31 billion) was spent to establish a disease prevention and control system that has operated at provincial, city and county levels over the past three years.

In addition, the central government spent 3 billion yuan (US$375 million) to support the establishment of health clinics in towns and townships in the central and western regions.

After the recently announced national drive to develop new socialist countryside, funds will be poured to rural infrastructure projects. There will also be more funds for medical care, education, and social security schemes for poor farmers.

(Xinhua News Agency March 30, 2006)

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