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China moves to improve health care & HIV/AIDS programmes

Over the last decade, China has introduced a series of healthcare reforms aimed at introducing universal medical coverage and improving basic and primary healthcare services.

Already, 1.23 billion of China’s 1.33 billion people have some kind of healthcare insurance and the government has recently announced how it intends to improve the scheme.

Currently the state runs two health insurance programmes, one for urban workers and a separate rural cooperative scheme. The Chinese State council this week said it intended to raise the subsidies paid for each person in the scheme from around 18 dollars to 30 dollars. In a statement from the central government reported by Reuters, Chinese officials said the aim was to “significantly increase the level of protection” for both urban and rural citizens. There are also plans to build another 1,000 hospitals and over 13,000 clinics in villages across China. With some hospitals charging high fees or wanting payment for treatments up front, the changes are designed to bring basic medical care within the reach of ordinary Chinese citizens.

The Chinese government have also been addressing the task faced by health services in combating HIV/AIDS. Chinese officials are conscious that in some regions AIDS prevention work is poorly coordinated and further efforts need to be made in tackling the spread of the disease. In the statement reported by Reuters, the Chinese authorities talk of “stepping up work” to halt the “rapid rise in cases in key areas and among key groups.....so that by 2020 the virus is brought under fairly good control nationally”. According to the latest UNAIDS report, China has between 560,000 to 1,000,000 people (estimate for 2009) living with HIV and the disease is now spreading primarily through sexual contact. Without vaccines, the government recognises it is a matter of “complex and long-term” prevention and control.

HIV/AIDS first became a problem in the country during the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of poor became infected through blood-selling schemes. After initially being slow to acknowledge the problem, China has recognised the disease represents a major threat and senior leaders have recently been shown in the media meeting with AIDS patients in order to tackle issues of stigma and discrimination. Though much progress has still to be made in healthcare, UNAIDS experts recently commended China at an Asia-Pacific meeting as one of the few countries in the Asian region to reform policy and develop a strategy for combating the disease.

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