Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wanted: harmonious hospitals

China has come a long way from the barefoot doctors of the Cultural Revolution. How much of that change has been progress? And what does all that have to do with politics?

Chinese Hospitals Are Battlegrounds of Discontent
Chinese hospitals are dangerous places to work. In 2006, the last year the Health Ministry published statistics on hospital violence, attacks by patients or their relatives injured more than 5,500 medical workers…

In June alone, a doctor was stabbed to death in Shandong Province… Three doctors were severely burned in Shanxi Province when a patient set fire to a hospital office…

Such episodes are to some extent standard fare in China, where protests over myriad issues have been on the rise. Officials at all levels of government are on guard against unrest that could spiral and threaten the Communist Party’s power…

[T]he violence also reflects much wider discontent with China’s public health care system. Although the government, under Communist leadership, once offered rudimentary health care at nominal prices, it pulled back in the 1990s, leaving hospitals largely to fend for themselves in the new market economy.

By 2000, the World Health Organization ranked China’s health system as one of the world’s most inequitable…

Over the past seven years, the state has intervened anew, with notable results. It has narrowed if not eliminated the gap in public health care spending with other developing nations of similar income levels, health experts say…

Still, across much of China, the quality of care remains low. Almost half the nation’s doctors have no better than a high school degree…

Primary care is scarce, so public hospitals — notorious for excessive fees — are typically patients’ first stop in cities, even for minor ailments…

Once admitted, patients are at risk of needless surgery…

Patients appear to be even more likely to get useless prescriptions. Drug sales are hospitals’ second biggest source of revenue…

Doctors seem as unhappy as patients. They complain that they are underpaid, undervalued and mistrusted…

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