Monday, May 14, 2012

Scavenging for health care

The Chinese medical system is one of the most renowned in the world, employing & often integrating the two entirely different medical systems of traditional Chinese medicine & western medicine. That’s, of course, for the rich & foreigners. China once touted a socialized medicine system which even in the best of times was insufficient & rudimentary, especially in serving the immense rural population. Attempting to provide universal & available health care to 1.3 billion people had many quirky features, including the “barefoot doctors” of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Nevertheless, despite all this, infant mortality fell & life expectancy increased by nearly double. However, when China began “economic reforms” (more appropriately called privatizing) in the early 1980s, the already half-assed system was dismantled & changed to a market-oriented one. In less than a generation, there is near total absence of affordable & available health care for rural residents & the 50% of urban residents who can afford it get it through insurance from employers. The complete failure of the government to provide decent health care for rural people has enforced the idea of two separate nations: one urban & the other rural. But of course the fundamental chasm is between impoverished working people & the parvenus & nouveau riche of the so-called reforms. Without sufficient health care, many infectious diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crescendo, along with growing outrage. To make it appear they give a damn, in 2009, the Chinese Cabinet passed a medical reform plan to provide universal medical service by 2020. Judging from this photo, they’re a long way behind in schedule. A ninety-year-old mother in Beijing (named Li Xiuying)  here goes through recyclable items to sell which she scavenged on nightly rounds in a shopping district in order to buy medicine for her sick 74-year-old daughter. (Photo by AFP)

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