China is working to ensure there is one clinic for each village or a “countryside doctor” for every 1,000 farmers in order to improve rural health care services, according to a guideline released on Thursday.
According to the guideline to strengthen the role of countryside doctors, promulgated by the General Office of the State Council, or Cabinet, efforts should be made to “expand the coverage of rural clinics and doctors to all of the country’s rural lands” before the end of 2011.
Statistics show that by the end of last year, more than 1.09 million rural doctors and 173,000 assistant physicians served in rural clinics, most of whom had once been “barefoot doctors,” usually middle-school students trained in first aid, in the 1960s and 1970s.
People in the country’s remote and underdeveloped regions have long had to rely on “barefoot doctors,” who are unlicensed and only able to treat common illnesses.
They are farmers who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training and brought health care to rural areas where urban-trained doctors did not want to live, promoting basic hygiene, preventive health care and family planning.
However, with the rapid economic and social transformation in rural areas as well as the dismantling of the old rural medicare system, rural doctors are facing many challenges, such as low incomes and a lack of pension.
In order to improve rural doctors’ living conditions, the guideline provides that countryside doctors should be covered by a pension program.
It also says the doctors must be professional trained so that they can provide farmers with “safe, effective, convenient and low-priced medical services.”
The guideline clarifies rural doctors’ obligations. Besides offering basic medical services, the doctors should promptly report epidemics and poisoning, help implement major public health projects and handle public health emergencies, and use traditional Chinese medicine to treat common diseases in the countryside.
Rural clinics should be incorporated in the implementation of the country’s basic drug system and the new rural cooperative medical system, and should be “subsidized by local governments and run by rural doctors,” it said.
During the past two years, the country’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s economic planner, has allocated about 1 billion yuan (155 million U.S. dollars) to support the construction of more than 25,000 rural clinics in remote and poverty-stricken areas.