WHO Health Dialogue

“Health Reform – Can China afford universal health coverage?”

News release

Health reform in China was the issue of the day at a World Health Organization (WHO) panel in Beijing. With China currently undertaking a major program of health reform, central to the debate was the cost and consequences of universal health coverage.

The panel at the WHO Health Dialogue featured Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, along with Professor Gordon Liu, Professor of Economics at Peking University National School of Development (NSD). James Chau, CCTV news anchor, moderated the discussion.

The panel focused on questions relevant to China’s health reform, its challenges, and how global perspectives can provide ideas on how to move the agenda forward and place it in the context of the broader sustainable development agenda.

“Public health really works: if you invest in it, the diseases are controlled. Hospitals should be the last resort, not the first resort. A health system is not a hospital system. It should be the end of the chain,” Professor Sachs said.

Outside the health system, some of the priorities are obvious: clear air and water, healthy diets, tobacco (tobacco is a killer and it needs to be phased out), green areas to walk in a city,” Professor Sachs said, referring to a sustainable environment as an essential element to keeping people healthy.

On the importance of keeping people healthy, Professor Liu said the following: “How do we transform the health care system? Hospitals should be the last resort – the question is how can we do that? Imagine a population of 1,000,000 - 200,000 are ill, and 800,000 are well. Our system focuses on the 200,000. Can we do something about the 800,000 people who are healthy? We need programs to maintain wellness”.

The high-powered panel shared views on the status of the health reform and how governments should include health as a priority within the country’s agenda and wider economic vision. Investment in health remains a major pillar of economic development both domestically and globally.

“The traditional donors are a little bit tired. China is not tired. China is running. Health is a wonderful place for China to invest in Africa because the returns are huge – for example, getting malaria deaths down to zero. These are perfect for China’s level of ambition. This is a historic and incredible opportunity,” explained Prof Sachs on the role that China can play in improving the health of millions of people in Africa.

WHO Health Dialogues are designed to promote discussion and debate on issues of critical importance to public health in China.

This event was organised in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers, East Asia.

For more information, please contact:

Ms WU Linlin
WHO China Office
E-mail: wul@wpro.who.int
Office Tel: +86 10 6532 7191