health care in china

Bad news: Jack has pneumonia. He has a bad cough, low energy and has been feeling awful for about 3 weeks.  He has been put on antibiotics. Good news: we have great medical care in China and he should start to feel better soon!


For most medical things we go to a little clinic about a mile from our house. They have pediatricians, dentists, regular doctors and doctors that specialize in Chinese medicine.  They also have a very fancy x-ray machine, which I discovered when we thought Hunter broke his wrist. It was only a sprain. The doctors are all western trained and speak English. It is a branch of a big hospital downtown. The rooms look just like any other doctor’s office in Canada, London or New Jersey. And so does the clientele. Everyone seems to be an expat.  I suspect this is because it is quite expensive.  We have insurance that so far, has covered everything. 


Most local Chinese are not so lucky. They only have state insurance.  China is struggling to provide health care to its population. There is a new system. If people go to a hospital in their local town about 75% of their costs are covered.  If they go to a county hospital about 60% is covered. However, if they go to a major city hospital only 30% is reimbursed.  Seems reasonable…. Except that there are not a lot of medical facilities in rural areas.  And if you move, with out getting the proper and difficult to acquire paperwork, state insurance won’t cover you at all.  You have to pay cash.


Surprisingly, rural areas had better access to medical care during the Maoist era.  City doctors were conscripted to go into the country and train farmers in simple treatments, with an emphasis on preventative health care and basic hygiene.  The farmers then worked part time as “barefoot doctors”.  The village collectives paid them.  Sadly, the program was abolished in 1981 when the commune system was dissolved. It is a shame because the scheme worked well.


Some barefoot practitioners later went on to medical school and became full-fledged doctors.  However, being a doctor in China does not generate the same respect as it does in the west.  And for the most part, they are not very well paid.  Doctors and hospitals now make a large portion of their income selling prescription medicine. Studies indicate people are developing resistance to antibiotics due to over use. There is also less emphasis on preventative care than in the past. My teacher told me that pregnant women are pressured to have a cesarean section after only a short period of labour as it generates more revenue for the hospital.


Our one and only experience with a Chinese hospital was on May 29, 2005 near Lijiang.  Hunter was incredibly sick with a very high fever. We followed our guide through dark filthy corridors lined with sick people. Finally we arrived at the pediatrician’s room.  It was packed with families.  Adults were spitting and smoking, kids were coughing and vomiting. They all wanted to touch the boys. I was sure we would catch something really horrible.


The doctor sat behind a desk with a patient’s chair on the other side.  There was no queue. When one person stood up the crowd rushed the chair.   Well, when it comes to my kids… get out of the way.  To everyone’s surprise, I got the next seat!  We told the doctor Hunter’s symptoms (via translator). She reached into a jar of murky liquid and drew out a thermometer. I yelped “not in his mouth, not in his mouth!! Under his arm!” She gave me small envelope with five pills and a bill.  The pills cost $1.50, the doctor 50 cents and hospital parking $4.  I have no idea what the pills were but Hunter was better in three hours. Maybe I should take Jack there!!

the photos are all from may 2005… how cute were the boys!!



1 comment

  1. “how cute were the boys!!” – utterly adorable – great photos! Hope Jack feels better soon.

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