China's Capacity to Manage Infectious Diseases

Global Implications

During the Seventeenth Party Congress in October 2007, it was clear that improving health care in China had become a political priority for the country’s leadership. Three decades of double-digit economic growth had not been matched by progress in China’s ability to prevent and treat diseases. The rudimentary Maoist-era health care infrastructure had largely collapsed in the reformist years of Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, and by the time Hu Jintao took office in 2002, it was in tatters, particularly in rural China.

At the same time, the socioeconomic changes wrought by China’s economic explosion and openness to the outside world created enormous new health care challenges and strains on the country’s capacity to manage them. As part of his government’s efforts to reduce social inequities resulting from 30 years of runaway growth, Hu made improving China’s health care system a priority. The SARS crisis of 2003 was a catalyzing period for China, and since then Beijing’s blueprint for national health care has been drawn and redrawn several times. The problems are deep and multifaceted; identifying solutions is not easy, no matter how clear a priority the task might be.

If China cannot meet its health care challenges, it will further tax an already strained international infrastructure. On the other hand, if China is successful, it can not only short-circuit an international spread of disease but also become a net donor to the global health community. To that end, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS assembled a group of international experts to address the current health care situation in China, China’s efforts to tackle the problems of infectious disease and health care reform, and the regional and global dimensions of these reform efforts. This report is intended as a tool to help international policymakers and practitioners, as well as Chinese officials and academics, meet the challenges of health care in China head on.

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Charles Freeman
Senior Adviser (Non-resident), Economic and Trade Affairs

Yanzhong Huang, Joan Kaufman, Gordon G. Liu, Yuanli Liu, J. Stephen Morrison, Drew Thompson, Thomas H. F. Tsang, Janet Vail

Xiaoqing Lu Boynton