Regrettably, I am cutting back on my blogging about China medical news this year. I've been doing this for more than a year now, out of enthusiasm and my own personal interest in the area, but it's becoming too much of a burden on my time. And of course it is all unpaid. Unless there is a sponsor out there who wishes a regular stream of China medical news? After my day job doing much the same thing about Australian medical news I find it hard to sit down at home and do the writing for this blog. So from now on I shall probably only update the site about once a week. That is not enough to cover the many things happening in healthcare in China, but that's your lot. As they say in Yorkshire, you don't get owt for nowt.
This week I have been reading about how patients in Shanghai with chronic diseases will now be able to pick up their repeat prescriptions from community clinics instead of the big hospitals. It's a move intended to relieve the overcrowding at the tertiary hospitals and sounds like an obvious and sensible idea. Whether it will work or not depends on whether China's hospital-obsessed patients can be persuaded to show up at the low-status community clinics.
There are also moves to try curb China's high levels (approaching 50%) of caesarean section intervention in pregnancy. A feature article by Yang Wanli describes how some obstetricians in China are trying to persuade women to opt for natural birth. However, the barriers are a lack of available analgesia for women in labour and the industrial production-line mentality of China's hospitals.
Rural health is a major issue in China this month, with the State Council approving a plan to boost the rural medical workforce. The Council wants to see rural areas of China have qualified doctors replace the current 'barefoot' practitioners. However, well-meaning intentions will not fix the huge rural medical workforce problem in China. The simple problem is that university qualified doctors do not want to work in rural villages. The pay is pathetic, there is no status and the workload is high. As this article shows, the current rural medical workforce is mostly unqualified and often dangerously lacking in skills.
That's not to say that rural health is completely hopeless in China. There have been great achievements in some areas of public health such as immunisation and basic child health. However, as a major article by Chinese paediatricians the Archives of Diseases in Childhood shows, the next step for China is to try reduce the incidence of more complex diseases in children. China has done well in tackling the easily preventable causes of child disease, now it must turn its attention to the difficult stuff - the consequences of preterm birth, and the many congenital and metabolic diseases.
One problem with monitoring China's progress in child health is knowing whether or not the official figures are true. Take measles vaccination for example. According to official reports, China has 95% measles vaccine coverage of infants. But when researchers analysed the causes of measles outbreaks in Hunan and Jiangsu that affected hundreds of children they found that the actual rates of measles immunisation more like 80%.
And finally, for those who put their faith in western healthcare companies helping improve the health of China, take a cautionary look at the sorry tale of GSK. A well regarded company in the west, GSK was the subject of high profile bribery allegations and a court case that jailed one of its British executives for his role in the bribes to doctors and hospitals. Now the company is reported to be cutting the jobs of 1000 employees in China following the downturn in its business there (including a 60% drop in revenue).