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The development of a ‘Healthy China’ is central to the Chinese Government’s agenda for health and development – and has the potential to reap huge benefits for the rest of the world.
President Xi Jinping has put health at the centre of the country’s entire policy-making machinery, making the need to include health in all policies an official government policy. In August, China held its National Health Conference, which was the most important national meeting on health in twenty years. This meeting demonstrated the government’s tremendous political will in investing in health.
Here President Xi said health is a prerequisite for people's all-round development and a precondition for economic and social development. Conversely, he also stressed that if the problems in the health sector are not effectively addressed, people’s health may be seriously undermined, potentially compromising economic development and social stability.
Following the National Health Conference, China’s leaders ensured health became an explicit national political priority with the approval of the Healthy China 2030 Planning Outline by China’s Central Party Committee and the State Council. This document is the first medium to long term strategic plan in the health sector developed at the national level since the founding of China in 1949. Furthermore it also indicates the political commitment of China to participate in Global Health Governance, and fulfil the UN SDG agenda.
From Ottawa to Shanghai & the sustainable development agenda
Thirty years ago, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion recognized the need to enable people to increase control over and to improve their health and well-being by ensuring healthier, sustainable environments where people live, work, study and play. Social justice and equity were highlighted as core foundations for health, and there was agreement that health promotion is not simply the responsibility of the health sector.
Subsequent WHO global health promotion conferences have reiterated these elements as key for health promotion.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world’s ambitious and universal “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”, includes 17 Goals, 169 targets and 231 initial indicators. The Agenda offers a new opportunity to involve multiple stakeholders to ensure that all people can fulfil their potential – to live in health and with dignity and equality.
With this in mind, the theme of the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion, “Health Promotion in the Sustainable Development Goals” is both timely and necessary to ensure policy-coherence and alignment of agendas for action. The slogan: “Health for All and All for Health” captures the commitment to leave no one behind and to involve all actors in a new global partnership to achieve this transformative Agenda.
Multisectoral collaboration and innovation play a key role in Healthy China. With over 20 departments drafting the 2030 plan, a vision has been set for a significantly expanded health industry, which would become a mainstay of the national economy. This would draw on the strength of China’s health science and technology innovation, which ranks amongst the world best, and would help to considerably improve the quality and level of health service delivered across the country.
Through greater technological advances and improvements to the health insurance system, China also hopes to ensure health equity can be basically achieved by 2030. Huge steps have already been taken here. Over the last decade, China embarked on the biggest health system reform the world has seen, aiming to extend health services beyond the country’s prosperous urban centres. At the start of the century, less than one-third of China’s population had access to health insurance. Now nearly 100% do. In essence, China has given its huge population a safety net that protects people from being impoverished by the costs of health care. This makes a tremendous contribution to a fair and prosperous society.
As we look to the future, China faces many health challenges. These include increasing rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease linked to lifestyle factors like smoking, an ageing population. It is simply not sustainable to meet these challenges in a health system that relies on hospitals. Therefore, a key component of Healthy China is the promotion of healthy lifestyles and physical fitness, including through the development of Healthy Cities, to ensure a greater focus on prevention rather than treatment. One of the most important steps towards a Healthy China is a national smoke-free law, which would have a significant impact on preventing many non-communicable diseases.
Further development of both Primary Health Care and Traditional Chinese Medicine in China can play a valuable role in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. WHO recognises that Primary Health Service is the most efficient and cost-effective way to meet the health needs of the people. There is strong international evidence that health systems centred around community health services staffed by well-trained GPs, close to where people live, is the most effective and efficient way to provide good quality health care to the whole population.
China’s investment in health reaps huge dividends not only for its domestic population, but also for the rest of the world. China’s contribution to global health security attracted international attention during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, supplying well-trained and self-sufficient medical teams when they were needed. More recently China has been supporting WHO’s Emergency Medical Team (EMT) initiative. Shanghai East Hospital was classified in the first batch of EMTs under the WHO Classification List. The Shanghai team is now registered by WHO for emergency deployment when the next regional or global outbreak strikes.
Building on these achievements and its domestic successes, China has a key opportunity to ensure that the huge progress it makes in developing a Healthy China at home can deliver great benefits across the world when exported elsewhere.