The need to fix rural health care in China – Richard Daniel Ewing

From Asia Times Online (link):

The brief but deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome threw the spotlight on the critical role of – or the lack of it – in rural China. The countryside incubated the SARS virus and might be the place where an avian-flu pandemic breaks out. So more than just the inhabitants have a stake in improving health care and prevention.

The system in the countryside is marked by under-investment and limited access to care. It stands in contrast to increasingly higher-quality care in China’s relatively more affluent urban areas. In an effort to prepare for future epidemics and seeking to address growing economic divisions, the government has launched several major programs to improve the quality of health care in the countryside.

A yawning division in care has emerged between urban and rural areas. Affluent coastal cities enjoy high-quality medical care, while much of the countryside remains woefully under-served. These disparities in service are causing serious health and social problems. Infectious diseases are on the rise in rural areas, and life-expectancy rates are lower than in urban centers. Yet it has not always been so. A few decades ago, China’s rural health-care system was the envy of the developing world.

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