In 1950, China’s population was almost 552 million, and the average lifespan was 35 as it had been for centuries. By the Time Mao died in 1976, even with the Great Famine (1958-1961) in a country known as the Land of Famines, the population increased to more than 930 million, and the average lifespan had climbed to almost 55. Today, there are almost 1-billion, 400-million Chinese, and the average lifespan has reached beyond 76 years, more than twice what it was in 1950 when Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became the leader of China?
How did all that happen?
After the CCP won the Civil war in 1949, health care improved in China. By the time Mao died in 1976, average life expectancy had increased by twenty years, so the program must have worked, right?
The CCP was the first government in China’s history to set goals and plans to help the people who lived in extreme poverty improve the quality of their lifestyles, and soon after Mao Zedong’s healthcare speech in 1965, the concept of the barefoot doctor (with basic paramedical training) was developed.
By 1968, the barefoot doctors program was a national policy, and it was offered free to the working class. The barefoot doctor program ended in 1981 with the end the agricultural cooperatives. However, two-thirds of rural village doctors currently practicing in China were first trained as barefoot doctors.
This program was the foundation of rural-health care in China, but back then anyone could become a barefoot doctor.
Mao told the people that if you wanted to be a doctor, you didn’t need to go to medical school. All you had to do was have the motivation to provide medical care to needy people and the government would support you and provide limited training.
The second class of medical care went to teachers, clerks and secretaries, who were considered ‘friends’ of the working class, the proletariat. The only difference was that these ‘friends’ had to pay to get medical treatment, and it was possible to face financial ruin from one hospital stay.
A third group of people was considered enemies of the proletariat: former shop-owners, landlords and denounced intellectuals like liberal arts professors. These people were denied health care.
Mao died in 1976, and between 1981 and 2003, the health care system in China was privatized. People had to pay before treatment or receive no medical care. This changed again in 2003, when the CCP launched a new cooperative medical system operated and funded by the government with a copay of 10 Renminbi per year for each enrolled citizen.
In 2008, the SARS epidemic resulted in the beginning of more health-care reforms.
Health Affairs.org reports, “China is at a crossroads in transforming its health care system. Like the United States, China is faced with the double-edged sword of having both a large uninsured population and rapid health care cost inflation. … China’s solution for its rural areas is the New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a government-run voluntary insurance program. … In an attempt to redirect urban patients’ reliance on hospital services toward primary care, the government announced in 2005 the establishment of community health centers (CHCs) to provide prevention, primary care, home care, and rehabilitative services.”
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