Unhealthy Numbers

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The horrors of health care (or lack of it) in China are a constant topics in the Chinese media, where tales of fraudulent doctors (and even fraudulent hospitals), blatant overcharging, over-prescription and deadly mis-diagnosis and so on are common. The Ministry of Health yesterday released statistics for last year that show these are more than just anecdotal evidence of a very sick system. The ministry said there were 9,831 health related disputes in China in 2006 in which 5,519 healthcare workers were injured, racking up financial losses of over 200 million RMB or about $25 million. An example from today’s press illustrates the depth of the problem confronting government officials, who are currently drafting a plan to reform the health care system. In the Sichuan city of Chengdu, a man who visited the doctor for what he believed was a cold was put through a battery of 76 tests that cost him 17,000 renminbi or over $2000. There are few details in the report (from Hong Kong’s Phoenix weekly) but supposedly the patient, one Tang Yi, was so angry that a confrontation ensued that lead to a “mass incident,” or some form of public disturbance. Tang seems to have emerged poorer but unscathed and, given the paucity of details, it would be wise to be cautious about giving full credit to the facts until they can be confirmed. Still, the incident does reflect many other similar events (including one famous one in Deng Xiaoping’s hometown, also in Sichuan) in some of which fatalities have resulted in major disturbances and injuries. Officials in Beijing, having let this slide for years, are finally waking up to the scale of the challenge facing them, an awareness sharpened by their abhorrence of the kind of threats to stability that such “mass incidents” manifest.

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