Most counties in central and western China will soon have mobilehospitals to ensure basic health care for poverty-stricken ruralresidents.
The central government has equipped counties in the region with1,004 coaches to provide door-to-door health care for farmers.
The National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry ofHealth have invested 230 million yuan (US$27.7 million) in theprogramme.
A source at the commission said an additional 800 coaches bought with treasury bonds will be put into use at the end of this year.
'We aim to equip every county in western and central China with amobile hospital,' Li Shenglin, vice-minister of the commission saidon Saturday in Beijing.
The coaches will mainly be used in common disease diagnosis, smalloperations, health check-ups and health education for the farmers,who live kilometres away from cities and towns.
Under the close supervision of provincial governments, county-level hospitals will use the vehicles to conduct medical check-upsrelated to AIDS and other contagious diseases.
Li said the programme was part of the central government's effortsto develop a sound health care system in rural areas. He said thesystem in rural areas should be improved.
Local officials and residents offered a cautious welcome.
Xiong Guanglin, the mayor of the city of Bazhong in SouthwestChina's Sichuan Province, said investment in the health sectors inwestern rural areas is particularly low, compared with other areas.
'Shocking statistics will have a say in how much investment therural areas needs,' said Xiong.
In his city, more than 90 per cent of women in urban areas givebirth in hospital, while about 90 per cent of babies are born at homein the countryside. While more than 90 per cent of deaths in urbanareas occur in hospital, more than 90 per cent of people pass away athome in rural areas.
Xiong also said that 70 per cent of the nation's population livingin rural areas enjoy just 30 per cent of the nation's resources inthe health and medicare sectors.
'A simple comparison can reveal a great deal,' Xiong said. 'Whenputting an end to hasty investments, the fact that some rural regionsare in dire need of investment should not be overlooked.'
In some poor areas in China, farmers have to pay medical billsthemselves. These poor farmers cannot afford to pay for a medicalcheck-up, so they often do not bother. Farmers become poorer, andtheir health suffers, forming a vicious circle forms.
The government is working hard to set up such a system in ruralareas.
A source with the Ministry of Health said the central governmenthas allocated 10 yuan (US$1.2) annually to every rural resident incentral and western China since last year to help them join a newmedical insurance scheme.
The plan, which will also collect 10 yuan (US$1.2) for each ruralresident from local governments and the same amount from each ruralresident, is aimed at finding a way to help poverty-stricken ruralresidents afford expensive medical treatment for serious illnesses.