Medical resource allocations to hospitals during public health emergencies is particularly important for safeguarding people’s health. Over the past three years, China has been advancing its strategies and preparation in fighting COVID-19.
The country has recently optimized its COVID-19 response measures to shift the focus from infection control to the prevention and treatment of severe cases. The adjustments, including downgrading management of the infectious disease to Class B, have brought back the busiest Spring Festival travel rush in three years. In anticipation of people returning to their hometowns for the holiday, the country has beefed up the capability for epidemic prevention and control in rural areas.
Strengthening efforts in rural areas
As of January 19, the government has equipped more than 600,000 village clinics across China with 1.17 million free pulse oximeters – key devices for doctors to identify severe COVID-19 cases at an early stage.
Other critical medical equipment, including ventilators, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, better known as ECMO, are generally enough for the country to treat severe cases, said Jiao Yahui, head of the Medical Administration Department under the National Health Commission (NHC).
In addition, the nation is pulling efforts from different government bodies such as the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the NHC to send more free small-molecule analgesics, or fever-reducing drugs, to rural areas.
China is also taking advantage of its healthcare alliance, established in 2018, to enhance supplies and treatment capability for COVID-19 patients in hospitals and clinics in rural areas.
In Xinzhuang Town of Changshu, a county-level city under the administration of Suzhou City, east China’s Jiangsu Province, the People’s Hospital has been closely monitoring the stock of antiviral drugs and reports its demand to related departments once needed.
“We can now guarantee prescriptions to those in need and I’m sure we won’t be short of supply with the help from related institutions,” Wu Danping, director of the hospital, told CGTN.
Besides, the central government has ordered counties and townships to prepare standby vehicles to transport severe patients to upper-level hospitals as quickly as possible.
Under the referral mechanism of the alliance between Changshu and Xinzhuang, it takes some 30 minutes for transferring patients, according to Gao Yu, head of the emergency department at the People’s Hospital.
China has invested heavily in expanding treatment capacity and ensure medical supplies in less-developed rural areas. According to Xinhua News Agency, a health service network had formed by the end of 2022, with 23,000 county-level medical institutions, 35,000 township hospitals, and 599,000 village clinics.
Cross-country medical resource allocation
Resource mobilization has been part of China’s strategy for public health emergency response from the very beginning.
In January 2020, when the COVID-19 epidemic broke out in Wuhan and jam-packed hospitals with the sudden influx of fever patients, the country quickly dispatched more than 40,000 medical workers to the hard-hit city. Their arrivals, along with the essential supplies from across the country, helped contain the epidemic in about three months.
China has dealt with more than 100 clustered epidemics and avoided the widespread prevalence of the original COVID-19 strain with strong pathogenicity and the Delta variant.
Medical resource enhancement
Three years of fighting COVID-19 allowed China to be better prepared for the recent spike in infections.
Though lagging behind developed countries, China’s hospitals provided an average of 6.7 beds per 1,000 people as of 2021, up from 6.46 a year earlier, according to the statistics of the country’s healthcare development statement published in July 2022.
And that number keeps increasing. The country’s health officials had ordered tertiary hospitals to increase intensive-care beds to four percent of its total beds while leaving some room for convertible ones by the end of December 2022.
“At present, 75.3 percent of beds for the severe cases are in use,” said Jiao Yahui, head of the Medical Administration Department under the National Health Commission, adding that the total number of intensive-care beds is sufficient to meet treatment needs.