View from the Wall

Soul and Body

The Need for Medical Services


A person needs a variety of qualities to survive well in contemporary society. He or she must acquire knowledge, moral principles, courtesy, marketable skills and, most importantly, a heart capable of loving and willing to follow God in faith. People with such qualities are positive elements for a society that maintains its peaceful progress.

China has a large population that does not believe in God, with hearts that cannot love others. Christian servants have long been in China promoting the gospel to save the hearts and lives of the Chinese. Their work has helped in the ongoing increase in the number of Christian believers and the expansion of churches. I recognize that soul-saving efforts in China have been unexpectedly fruitful and that success has won worldwide praise.

However, as created beings living in a fallen world, humans are vulnerable to all kinds of risks. They are not shielded from sickness, illness, accidents, injuries, paralysis, sudden loss of health or death. A person may have a loving heart and be a positive force in his community, but when he becomes the victim of poor physical health or suffers an injury that is not properly treated, the community will become unstable. Physical health is the necessary base for all good services within communities; it affects the well-being of each family, the strength of social groups, the stability of the community and therefore of the government.

Unfortunately, we live in a country where millions of people die every year going into eternal darkness. While it is assumed that hospitals are everywhere people reside, and normally that is true, nevertheless, before dying, millions suffer physically. Christians, therefore, need to spend time considering the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs of those who might eventually be eternally lost. By doing this, they demonstrate concern and care for humanity.

China has enjoyed great growth in its economy; its economic reform has been successful. However, in July, 2005, the Chinese government for the first time, in a widely distributed report, disclosed the general lack of success of China's medical services reform. In 2000, China started its medical care reform. A report released by the Development and Research Center of the State Council at that time claimed that "China's medical reform has so far been an unsuccessful one" because it has increased the charges paid by patients to such an unbearable level that some patients cannot go to a hospital when they fall ill.[1] Indeed, there are hospitals in most towns with large populations, but many patients cannot benefit from their services due to the expense. It is not unusual for a person to spend 1000 yuan on a common cold while many city workers earn only about 2,000 yuan a month. In addition, at times it is too difficult to get an appointment because there are always more patients than the maximum number a doctor can see. The only possibility for an appointment pass is that a patient gets in line at the hospital lobby as early as 5 or 6 am.

Difficulty in acquiring medical care is one of the new "three big mountains" oppressing the people. (Education and elder care are the other two.) Every individual and family is affected by the difficulties in acquiring medical care; for many, all they can do is pretend nothing is wrong with their health and wish for the best. Some may choose not to know about their conditions; others, when forced to deal with them, choose to entrust their bodies to alternative cure methods that are risky or go against social normsbut receiving the costly treatments found in regular hospitals is not an option.

Prior to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, city dwellers generally were covered by a safety net through government sponsored medical care, even though the net was barely competent. The vast countryside, however, was basically abandoned under this urban-centered arrangement with the exception of the "barefoot doctor" program that Mao instigated. This program attempted to provide national coverage to peasants who had no easy access to hospitals or clinics and hoped to establish a medical service network in China similar to that in Western nations. The program hoped that a fully accountable rural medical system would function using the manpower of inspired volunteers, both trained and untrained, from the Communist Party or Communist Youth League. These volunteers would give of their energy and time requiring virtually no government spending.

After the 1980s Reform leading China toward a market economy, money became the new source of inspiration. Hospitals are now rapidly "impressing" society with their desire to make large profits with doctors the willing tools of these money-making machines. As a result, both city and rural medical coverage is shrinking because patients are less able to use services due to declining buying power in the over-priced medical service market. According to The Third National Report on the State of Health Care in China, citizens' access to medical services has declined in 2003. The report shows that only 30.2% of city residents have employer sponsored medical insurance, another 4% have government paid medical services, another 4.6% have labor protection medical insurance, another 5.6% are insured by private companies and 44.8% have absolutely no medical insurance. In rural areas, 9.5% have cooperative medical insurance, 3.1% have other social insurance, 8.3% are privately insured and an astonishing 79.1% are completely without insurance. We may infer that the majority of the Chinese will have difficulties if the costs for medical services continue to rise.

Unacceptable practices push the cost of medicine even higher. Doctors, especially surgeons, routinely accept large gifts from worried patients or their relatives who, prior to critical surgeries, are fearful of the loss of life. Even worse, this practice of a "gift for life" becomes an expectation. Thus, a major medical problem can bankrupt many people. Fully aware of their limited options, many individuals have chosen to steer away from hospitals and let their body's own mechanisms work until death overtakes them.

Crooks and quacks have also emerged and acted quickly after smelling the bloody shortage of affordable medical services. They have started private clinics and hospitals that they claim have the same capabilities as the regular ones. People with medical conditions, under financial stress, are prone to choose these private medical services; many have found they lose even more money at them. However, more deadly, they lose the precious initial response time needed to save their lives and health.

The cold fact is that for low income people, a major illness means loss of position at work, loss of job, and then, even the loss of life. This fact is becoming the biggest obstacle that separates the average people from life of hopeand it is not responsive to academic counter measures or governmental efforts to overcome it.

What can non-profit organizations and service oriented people do to address this issue? They need to their rearrange priorities and become involved in saving the physical lives of those who suffer, Christians and non-Christians alike. The idea that the church should concentrate only on direct evangelistic work needs to be balanced with a concern for the whole person. Christians throughout all history have been inspired to provide medical services to needy people. For many years, there was not a better hospital in China than the Peking Union Medical College Hospital (www.pumch.ac.cn). It is no surprise that the college was founded as a missionary school in 1906. Today, located in the heart of Beijing, it is still the source of the most desired physicians in China. Now a government owned entity, there is no way of knowing whether this hospital is also becoming merely a money-making machine.

However, new hospitals and clinics can be established, detached from government ownership though by no means free of its control. Foreign entities can probably enter the Chinese medical service field and have much influence. The medical services of missionary entities have left their beautiful footprints in the history of China. Many people still remember their contributions to the progress of China as a country. The generosity from Christians in the U.S. and the West should not cease merely because there are government and private medical services now in place in China; rather, they need to re-enter China. They often provide better services and equipment along with a clear presentation of the Christian message. There are millions of needy people who do not expect to be helped by any means other than their own luck and local deities; this makes Christian medical services meaningful and worthy.

When an entire nation is plagued by a lack of medical facilities and quality care, and when even the government doubts its ability to provide good care, needy people flock to truly caring and qualified servants. There is no need to search out the needy when you want to share something with them! The great lack of good medical care in China, and the newly opened door for friendly intervention together can produce a double benefit for medical mission investment: God-pleasing gains of both a saved body and a saved soul. It is not profitable for a person to gain a healthy body while losing his soul; likewise, it is unprofitable to a gain soul while ignoring the loss of physical health or life. Western agencies can do both in China, gaining both body and soul.

One clinic at a time, one small hospital at a timethese can provide hope in despair. While there are a few charitable medical service stations in the large cities, China's interior is full of the under-served and un-served. Contemporary China has few volunteers, volunteers who will go to the suffering millions living in the interior. However, my impression is that more Christians in China would dedicate their - timeand even their livesto volunteer medical services if this service was seen as compatible with the grand picture of God's purposes in China. If these volunteers are asked to provide tangible services such as assisting in the medical care of children, the elderly and truly needy people, the only other thing China would need is the same leadership and practical skills of Western Christians as they have given in the past. In conclusion, we need the Bible, we need pastoral care, and we need medical clinics and hospitals that serve.

Image credit: Tibet0005.JPG via Flickr.

Huo Shui

Huo Shui (pseudonym) is a former government political analyst who writes from outside China. View Full Bio