Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ask me no questions .... a bland press conference hosted by the NHFPC

by Michael Woodhead
For some reason, Chinese state media is running a transcript of a press conference convened by the National health and Family Planning Commission. It contains very little new or newsy, but does show how these events differ from those in countries with a free(er) media. Given the long and detailed replies, it's obvious that the questions and answers are pre-prepared. And it's all a bit of a whitewash from the start. The un-named 'journalist' first asks about the health of China's women and children. The reply is filled with the usual numbers and statistics to back up [genuine] improvements in maternal and child health. It avoids any discussion of 'sensitive' subjects such as abortion rates, female suicide, sex-selective fertility clinics and gender disparities in health.
The journo than asks a more pertinent question about the health of China's huge floating population of rural migrant workers and their families. This is one of China's most disadvantaged groups, as they lack health insurance cover in their place of residence - their rural insurance (if any) is not potrtable to cities and offers only paltry levels of reimbursement.
However in the press conference this topic is deflected with a bland reply about how services for rural migrant healthcare have improved in recent years. It also claims that "up to" 92% of migrant families have access to health services such as immunisation. This is incorrect - as I have reported here in recent months, immunisation rates  are very low for children for rural migrants because most are ineligible for urban health services.
The press conference then moves on to preparations for the two child policy and prevention of birth defects through folic acid supplementation. It also touches on the dismal rates of breastfeeding in China, which have collapsed in recent years as newly wealthy Chinese women opt for baby formula. The press spokesman says that breastfeeding will be promoted by policies that 'hope' employers will provide nursing areas in workplaces.
The only point of interest is the pledge that 'VIP wards' (or special medical services as the spokesman euphemistically describes them) will be phased out of China's public hospitals, with new private hospitals expected to take on this role.
All in all, a fairly standard piece of non-news.

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