China Medical News

News archive


December: China to Waive Import Tariffs for Active Ingredients of Anti-cancer and Rare Disease Drugs in 2024

According to the 2024 Tariff Adjustment Plan recently published by the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council, China will waive import tariffs for 62 active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) of anti-cancer drugs and 5 APIs of rare disease drugs, starting from January 1, 2024. The plan covers 1,010 commodities, with interim import tax rates being set lower than most-favored-nation tariffs for the year 2024.

Notably, certain medical products will be exempted from import taxes. Apart from APIs for the anti-cancer and rare disease drugs listed below, medical products such as nirmatrelvir for COVID-19, insulins for diabetes, vaccines, gene therapies, and more will also enjoy interim zero tariffs. (Source: ChemLinked)

For the details, please visit ChemLinked website:

December: 126 drugs to be added to national basic medical insurance

China will add 126 drugs to a revised national basic medical insurance list, the National Healthcare Security Administration said. Newly added products will include 21 anti-cancer drugs, 17 antivirals or anti-COVID medicines, 15 drugs for treating diabetes, mental disorder, rheumatism and other chronic diseases, and 15 drugs targeting rare diseases, the administration said at a news conference. One drug will be removed from list. The new list, which will come into effect on Jan 1, will include 3,088 drugs.

Among newly included drugs, 121 were added after successful negotiations with manufacturers, with their average prices cut by 61.7%. "Patients are expected to save 40 billion yuan ($5.6 billion) in the next two years thanks to price negotiations and reimbursement policies," the administration said. It has updated the national insurance drug list for six consecutive years, with 744 drugs added to it during that period. (Source: China Daily)

December: Price drop coming for 30 medical devices

The fourth round of China's centralized bulk medical procurement has resulted in a 70% drop in the average price of 30 types of medical devices, according to the National Healthcare Security Administration.

The products cover intraocular lens and sports medicine consumables for the treatment of cataract patients and patients who need sports medicine surgery due to labor or sports muscle or ligament damage. "The aging population has led to an increasing demand for intraocular lenses," and "cases of damaged joints, pulled muscle and strained ligament are surging in the national fitness boom." said Jiang Changsong, an assistant to the dean of the National Healthcare Institute of the Capital Medical University in Beijing.(Source: China Daily)

November: Newly reported AIDS cases in Beijing down 49% since 2016

The overall HIV/AIDS epidemic in Beijing is at a low prevalence level, with a steady decline in the number of new cases, said the city's center for disease control and prevention.

Since China reported the first case of AIDS in 1985, the capital city has reported a total of 40,840 cases of HIV/AIDS as of October 31 this year. Among all the infected, 93.45% were transmitted through sexual contact, with 68.41% through contact between men and 25.04% through contact between individuals of different genders. Among the total infections, 3.32% through drug injection, and the rest were infected through other transmission routes, according to a Beijing News report.

The number of newly reported cases residing in Beijing has seen a decline since 2016, with a 49.31% decrease in 2022 compared to the same period in 2015. From January to October this year, there was a 3.97% decrease compared to the same period in the previous year. Currently, there are a total of 27,285 infected people living in Beijing. (Source: China Daily)

November: Nation aims to improve cancer survival rates

China aims to raise the overall five-year survival rate for cancers to over 46.6% by 2030 by rolling out comprehensive measures including promoting healthy lifestyles, expanding screening and accelerating the development of new technologies, officials and experts said. China reports nearly 4.1 million new cancer cases each year, with lung, colorectal, stomach, liver and breast cancers the most common. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses account for over 80% of deaths in the country.

Guo Yanhong, director of the National Health Commission's medical emergency response department, said during a news conference that the proportion of people surviving for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis rose from 40.5% in 2015 to 43.7% last year. "The upward trend seen in cancer incidence and death rates in China has been initially curbed, and the incidence of prevalent cancers, such as those in the esophagus, stomach and liver, has been decreasing annually," she said.

Drawing lessons from past years' efforts, the commission launched an action plan on November 15th to further curtail rising rates of cancer incidence and mortality, through addressing risk factors, strengthening screening and early interventions and implementing standardized therapies across the nation. The action plan calls for increasing awareness rates of key knowledge on cancer prevention to over 80% by 2030. The rate currently stands at 70%, said Guo.

Zhang Yong, Party chief of the National Cancer Center, said that about 40% of cancers can be prevented through reining in risk factors and adopting a healthier lifestyle, such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol use, obtaining vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus and minimizing exposure to carcinogens, especially at workplaces. "It is also important to undergo authoritative cancer screening and anti-cancer health examinations so as to detect potential malignant tumors at an early stage," he added.

Zhang said that Shanghai, Tianjin and the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu have begun offering free cancer screening for residents in recent years. By the end of last year, the early diagnosis rate of key cancer types in high-prevalence regions topped 55%.

More efforts will be made to expand screening, integrate screening with the initiation of early diagnosis and treatment, and launch awareness campaigns to improve the public's acceptance of such programs. "We will also step up research into developing novel screening and early treatment technologies, targeting the most common cancer types in China," he added.

Zhang said that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer in China has reached 83%, nearing the level in developed countries. The rate for esophageal cancer has also surpassed that in some European and American countries. "China is among the leading groups globally regarding its cancer prevention and treatment technologies," he said. (Source: China Daily)

November: Health experts call for greater awareness of COPD in China

Health experts called for improving public awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — one of the most common and deadly chronic respiratory illnesses in China — and boosting the screening and treatment capability of grassroots medical workers.

COPD, usually associated with smoking or long-time exposure to air pollution, causes symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, chronic cough - sometimes with phlegm, and exhaustion. However, it is preventable and curable. The disease is the third leading cause of deaths worldwide and affects around 13.7% of people aged 40 and above in China, according to Wang Chen, a prominent respiratory disease and critical care expert and director of the National Center for Respiratory Medicine.

However, Wang said that awareness of the disease pales markedly when compared with that of other common chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. A survey led by the center shows that over 60% of participants "have no idea of COPD". Among medical workers in community or rural health clinics, only half of them have a basic understanding of the disease.

Yang Ting, deputy director of the center, said that an epidemiological investigation has shown that less than 10% of people in China have taken a pulmonary function test — which is essential for diagnosing the disease. "Moreover, the primary therapy for treating the disease on the grassroots level should be inhaled drugs, but our survey shows that grassroots medical workers most often prescribe antibiotics, cough medicines used to help clear phlegm and even oral corticosteroid medications," she said.

"The top priority regarding controlling the disease should be on the grassroots level, and more efforts are needed to step up training for local medical workers on standardized treatment and improving access to proper drugs," she said. Wang also suggested people aged 40 and above to undergo screening of the disease, and include the pulmonary function test into the regular health checkups. (Source: China Daily)

November: Type 1 diabetes becoming more prevalent in China

The incidence of type 1 diabetes in China is growing rapidly and occurring at a younger age, with the peak age of onset between 10 and 14 years old, experts said ahead of the World Diabetes Day, which will fall on November 14th this year.

The number of type 1 diabetes patients below 15 in the country has nearly quadrupled over the past two decades, and the disease has become more common among children below 10 and even younger than 5, said Zhou Zhiguang, director of the National Clinical Research Center for Metabolic Diseases. "Both the number and growth rate of type 1 diabetes among children in the country are ranked the fourth in the world," he said.

Diabetic patients rely on insulin to control blood glucose level, and children suffering from type 1 diabetes must have their blood glucose measured four to eight times and take at least four injections of insulin on a daily basis. This places a great burden on youngsters' disease management and social psychology, said Jin Sheng, who is in charge of a social organization providing support for minors suffering from the disease and their families in Shanghai.

Yang Tao, director of the endocrinology department of the First Hospital Affiliated with Nanjing Medical University, said that many parents of young patients are disappointed that their children will have to take insulin injections for their entire life.

Tzield, an innovative therapy that can postpone the onset of type 1 diabetes for patients aged 8 or older for nearly three years, made its Asia debut during the 6th China International Import Expo held in Shanghai last week. The injection by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration last year, is the world's first and only innovative drug that can delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, and marks a major breakthrough in the treatment of type 1 diabetes since the advent of insulin a century ago. (Source: China Daily)

November: Latest bulk drug procurement further lowers prices

The latest and ninth round of China's centralized drug procurement program has resulted in an average price cut of 58% on 41 types of medicine, the National Healthcare Security Administration said. Drugs involved in the bulk-buy tackle diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, infection, and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions, and around half of them are injectable medications.

The price reduction is expected to save 18.2 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) annually. Patients can access drugs at the discounted prices in March, it added. The bidding result released on November 6th is preliminary and a final version will be published soon. Held in Shanghai on Monday, the bidding involved 382 medical products from 262 enterprises, and around 78% of participating companies ended up winning bids.

Jiang Changsong, an official of the National Healthcare Institute of Capital Medical University in Beijing, said that this round also includes eight types of medications in short supply. The ratio of injectable medications is also among the highest compared to previous programs.

Among selected drugs is a capsule, named Lenalidomide, used to treat multiple myeloma, a blood disease. The price per 25-milligram capsule will drop from around 200 yuan to 15 yuan, saving patients around 3,880 yuan per month.

Another highlight of this round is that the procurement cycle has been extended to nearly four years, compared with the previous one year. The administration said that the extension would enable drugmakers to devise long-term development plans based on the demand of the market and prevent stepping up manufacturing capacity and wasting excess capacity. (Source: China Daily)

November: China sees continuous improvement in health service capacity

The health service capacity of medical institutions in China has seen significant improvement in 2023, Chinese health officials said. From January to September, medical institutions in China saw a total of 5.11 billion medical visits, statistics from China's National Health Commission (NHC) showed. The commission also recorded 220 million hospital discharges of recovered patients in that period. According to Lei Haichao, deputy director of NHC, the statistics indicate that the people's demand for health services has been effectively met, and these services were delivered with greater efficiency.

Basic public health services provided at the primary level have been bolstered as well. NHC official Wang Bin said that in the first half of 2023, nearly 90 million people aged 65 and above enjoyed health management through such services, increasing by 40% compared with the same period last year. Health authorities and medical institutions have also made proactive efforts to ensure the accessibility and equitability of health services. Currently, 82.7% of all medical institutions at or above the secondary level in the country have established a system that enables patients to schedule appointments for diagnosis and treatment, Lei said. (Source: Xinhua)

October: China establishes national standardized pain treatment center

China unveiled a national standardized pain treatment center in its capital city of Beijing, aiming to expand the accessibility of quality medical resources for pain treatment at the grassroots level. Chronic pain lasting longer than three months has become a growing concern for an increasing number of people. Experts say chronic pain requires early treatment due to its complicated and varied causes, and the longer it continues, the more difficult it is to treat.

The country has scheduled pilot programs in a number of hospitals nationwide for the period of 2022-2025, focusing on the comprehensive management of pain, according to a work plan released in 2022. The newly established center has started evaluating 30 community-level hospitals, and plans to complete the construction of standardized pain treatment centers in 10 to 15 community-level hospitals by 2024. (Source: Xinhua)

October: Study finds generic drugs included in bulk-buying initiative effective and safe

A recent study led by the National Healthcare Security Administration found that generic drugs included in the second and third rounds of China's centralized drug procurement program were as effective and safe as their branded counterparts.

China launched the first round of the bulk-buying initiative in 2018 and has now rolled out seven subsequent ones. Designed to reduce the cost of expensive drugs and alleviate the financial pressure on patients, the bulk purchases have covered 333 types of medicines. The majority of the drugs are generic versions of name-brand products, and that led to some concerns about their efficacy and safety among some patients and medical workers. To dispel such concerns, the administration rolled out a study in 2019 to measure the efficacy and safety of 14 types of drugs selected during the first round of the procurement program. That study found the generic medicines were as effective and safe as their name-brand counterparts.

Zhang Lan, director of the pharmacology department at Capital Medical University's Xuanwu Hospital, told a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday that a second evaluation study initiated in June 2021 — which covered the second and third rounds of the program — had looked into 23 types of medicines used to fight infection and treat cancers and metabolic, endocrinological, mental health, cardiovascular and digestive conditions. "Overall, we have reached the conclusion that these drugs' efficacy and safety parallel those of branded drugs," she said. Zhang added that treatment outcomes varied between patients and it was possible that a certain ratio of patients would find a particular drug less effective than expected. "It is unreasonable to jump to the conclusion that generic drugs are inferior to their branded counterparts based on a few sporadic cases," she said. "Only through studies of a large population can we arrive at a scientific conclusion." (Source: China Daily)

October: China has 14.41 million health workers

China had 14.41 million health workers at the end of last year, 425,000 more than the previous year, statistics from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed.

The statistics released by the NHC revealed there were about 1 million medical and health institutions across China in 2022, of which more than 80,000 feature traditional Chinese medicine. The number of active physicians (physician assistants) and registered nurses per 1,000 people stood at 3.15 and 3.71, respectively, both figures higher than those in 2021, said the NHC. By 2025, the number of health workers in China will hit 16 million, according to a health talent development plan for the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).

The NHC also reviewed progress on improving health care for women and children, as well as the health conditions of China's aging population. Statistics showed that in 2022, 9.56 million babies were born, and the mortality rate among children under 5 stood at 6.8 per 1,000 and the infant mortality rate was 4.9 per 1,000, while the maternal death rate had dropped to 15.7 per 100,000. By the end of 2022, nearly 19,500 primary medical and health institutions suited to elderly patients had been built, said the NHC. (Source: Xinhua)

September: Alzheimer's disease on the rise among under 60s

The number of people under 60 with Alzheimer's in China has been growing fast, and experts have called for strengthening early prevention efforts and enhancing the development of novel drugs.

Those aged 60 to 79 account for about 62% of people newly diagnosed with the memory-robbing disease, but the proportion of new cases in the under 60s take up 21%, much higher than the global average of around 5 to 10%, according to a report released by the Alzheimer's disease branch of the Chinese Aging Well Association on Wednesday. The finding suggests that Alzheimer's is increasingly affecting younger people of working age in China, highlighting the need to step up prevention, as well as early screening and diagnosis of the disease across the whole of society.

Sun Yongan, a neurologist from Peking University First Hospital, said that despite growing awareness of the disease, more efforts are needed to spread education on early interventions to grab the golden window of opportunity to initiate treatment. "We have called for carrying out screening, diagnosis and therapies as early as possible to win more time to slow down and contain the progression of the disease," he said. "Meanwhile, it is important to introduce novel treatments to address a lack of precise and effective clinical therapies targeting the disease."

China has about 15.1 million dementia patients aged 60 and above, including 9.83 million with Alzheimer's. Creating effective drugs for the disease has been a global challenge. In China, five medications have been approved for treating the disease, but they only work to contain symptoms in the short term, and are unable to target the pathogenic mechanism to slow the disease's progression.

On Sunday, a separate report released by the China Association for Alzheimer's pointed out that the incidence rate of dementia, including Alzheimer's, has been rising gradually over the past decades. The incidence rate for men and women above 60 is around 2.4 and 4.2% respectively.

The report suggested prioritizing prevention and establishing a comprehensive system to monitor cases and deaths of Alzheimer's and other dementia diseases. It also suggested setting up early prevention demonstration programs in cities with deeply aged populations. (Source: China Daily)

September: China releases second catalog of rare diseases

Chinese health authorities have recently published the country's second catalog of rare diseases. It adds 86 more rare diseases on top of the 121 rare diseases released in their first catalog in 2018, with now a total of 207 diseases. The entire list in English can be found in the ChemLinked website;


August: China releases five-year plan for enhanced birth defect prevention

China's National Health Commission has released a five-year plan aimed at more efficient prevention and control of birth defects and reducing the incidence of birth defect-related fatalities and disabilities.

According to the plan, the rate of prenatal screening in China is expected to reach at least 90% by 2027, while the mortality rates of infants and children under five due to birth defects will be below 0.1% and 0.11%, respectively. The plan also called for improvement in preventing and treating major birth defects such as severe congenital heart disease, Down Syndrome, and thalassemia major.

By 2027, the diagnosis and treatment rates of inherited metabolic diseases such as phenylketonuria and congenital hypothyroidism within two weeks after birth are expected to reach 90%. The diagnosis rate of congenital hearing loss within three months and intervention rate within six months after birth are expected to both reach 90%, according to the plan. (Source: Xinhua)

August: Over 41% Chinese men, 28% women overweight or obese

About 41.1% of Chinese men were overweight or obese compared with 27.7% of Chinese women, according to a research published on the medical journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism on Aug 17.

Researchers from the First Medical Center of Chinese PLA General Hospital analyzed data of about 15.8 million eligible participants from 519 Meinian health check-up centers across 243 cities in China. As per Chinese BMI classification, 34.8% of the studied population was overweight and 14.1% was obese. The eligible participants were aged 18 or above. And 52.8% were male. Chinese body mass index classification criteria define overweight as BMI 24 to 28 kg/m2 and obesity as BMI at or above 28 kg/m2.

There are several reasons why men are more prone to obesity, with causes usually related to the stress and emotions in life or work, said Wu Xueyan, a professor from the endocrinology department at Peking Union Medical College Hospital. Long-term excessive stress and negative emotions could lead to the increased secretion of stress hormone - adrenal glucocorticoid, which plays a role in combating insulin and increasing abdominal fat accumulation, according to Wu. In order to relieve stress and release emotions, men often resort to unhealthy lifestyles such as drinking alcohol and overeating, and long term insufficient or irregular sleep can also lead to male obesity, Wu said.

By region, the proportion of overweight and obesity in the north is generally higher than that in the south, with Inner Mongolia (37.1%), Shandong (37.1%), and Hebei (36.6%) ranking among the top three. The prevalence of overweight peaked at age 50 to 54  in males and at age 65 to 69  in females. The prevalence of obesity peaked at age 35 to 39  in males and at age 70 to 74  in females.

When assessed using Chinese BMI classification, participants in higher BMI groups tended to have a greater number of complications. In the overall population, the most commonly reported complications were fatty liver disease (34.9%), prediabetes (27.6%), dyslipidemia (24.9%) and hypertension (17.6%). In the overall population, 40.3% of participants had no complications, 29.6% had one complication, 17.7% had two complications, 9.1% had three complications and the remainder had four to eight complications.

Due to poor diet and sedentary behavior, the population with metabolic syndrome, characterized by abdominal obesity, has increased significantly in modern times, said Li Buman, deputy director of endocrine immunology department at Tsinghua University Yuquan Hospital. Metabolic syndrome is a key predictor of type 2 diabetes and a high risk factor of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, Li said. Early detection, evaluation, and intervention are important strategies for preventing obesity-related complications. (Source: China Daily)

August: Shanghai rolls out anti-corruption campaign aimed at medical supplies sector

Shanghai has launched a campaign to crack down on improper procurement and sales of medical supplies and provision of medical services, according to a document released by the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission and 12 other city-level government authorities on Monday. The campaign will mainly focus on preventing medical workers from taking commissions for any procurement of high-value medical consumables and ensuring that workers adhere to professional ethics.

Regarding the procurements, the document stipulated that the authorities will look into key hospital departments such as orthopedics, blood purification, cardiovascular medicine, examination, testing, and rehabilitation, and crack down on illegal activities, including exchanging high-value consumables, fabricating prices for such consumables, and charging for different parts of the consumables.

Medical workers are forbidden to accept money, gifts, vouchers, tourism products and other forms of properties provided by patients and their families throughout medical treatment, according to the document. They are also not allowed to receive any forms of rewards or gifts provided by enterprises or individuals involved in the manufacture or commercialization of medical devices, drugs, and reagents.

The introduction of the campaign in Shanghai comes following a national conference to combat corruption in medical and pharmaceutical fields that was held by the national discipline inspection authority on July 28. Some medical insiders believe that this unprecedented anti-corruption campaign will reduce unfair competition in the industry and promote the rational use of truly innovative and clinically valuable drugs and devices. (Source: China Daily)

June: China launches three-year campaign to fight Alzheimer's disease

Health authorities in China have launched a nationwide campaign that will be carried out from 2023 to 2025 to promote the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD). According to a circular by the National Health Commission that was made public on Wednesday, efforts will be made to raise public awareness of the disease and guide the elderly population to pay attention to their brain health.

Local authorities are encouraged to conduct cognitive function screenings among elderly people to ensure early detection and prompt medical intervention, and enable more relevant patients to receive appropriate treatment in order to reduce the incidence or slow the progression of the disease, according to the circular. The circular has also vowed to promote the accessibility of technical assistance to support those who take care of AD patients in order to alleviate their burden. (Source: Xinhua)

May: Medical circuits to serve isolated and remote villages without resident doctors

China plans to institutionalize sending rural doctors to isolated and remote areas on a regular basis by 2025, as part of efforts to address the shortage of medical workers in the most undeveloped areas of its countryside, according to a recent circular. For villages with small populations where recruiting a rural doctor is not viable due to limited demand, as well as for relocated communities that do not yet have their own medical facilities, local health authorities are to arrange for township-level health centers to set up a medical services circuit, and for county-level health institutions to offer technical support.

The circuit team should comprise clinical physicians, TCM doctors, nurses, public health specialists and support staff. They should offer their services at least twice a week, with each round lasting no less than half a day, according to the circular. The circular was released by the National Health Commission in March, in conjunction with the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control. "Medical circuit teams should arrange service hours according to the living and working habits of rural populations, to provide them with access to high-quality, basic healthcare service on their doorsteps," it stated.

In addition to circuit services, the document stated that medical workers from township-level medical institutions will be dispatched to villages with large populations that have been unable to recruit qualified rural doctors. "Medical workers sent to village clinics should work at least five days a week, and work in the same village for no less than six consecutive months," the circular stated. In addition, medical circuit teams and aid workers will be tasked with training local doctors to manage common and major illnesses, and will be encouraged to set up telemedicine cooperation networks to offer diagnosis and treatment to patients.

In a statement explaining the rollout of the new document, the commission said that there is currently a marked shortage in healthcare capacity in some rural regions, and becoming a rural doctor has low appeal to job seekers. "It is likely that the previous situation of villages without local doctors could reemerge… and so we have introduced these new measures to allocate quality medical services to the grassroots level, and increase the access of rural people to convenient and affordable healthcare services," it said.

Dai Jianjun, president of the People's Hospital of Jinxiang County in Jining, Shandong province, told China Central Television that the hospital has opened outposts at 14 township-level clinics and community service centers in Jinxiang county, and regularly dispatches 56 specialists to see patients, visit wards and train rural doctors. (Source: China Daily)

April: Centralized procurement cuts insulin prices, benefits millions of diabetes patients

China's diabetes patients now have access to high-quality and more affordable insulin products, as the country's drug bulk-buying program for insulin products has led to an average price cut of 48%. The centralized procurement is estimated to save 9 billion yuan (about 1.31 billion U.S. dollars) in diabetes-related health expenditure each year, according to the National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA).

The special procurement for insulin products, which was initiated in May 2022, has benefited over 10 million diabetes patients and the number is still rising. The price of insulin glargine, a typical product to treat diabetes, for instance, dropped from 180 yuan to about 70 yuan per unit, saving 4,000 yuan a year for each patient, said an official with the administration.

The scheme marked the first time that biopharmaceuticals were included in the national centralized drug bulk-buying project, a program organized since 2018 to address expensive access to medical treatment of great concern to the people. The procurement for insulin covers the second- and third-generation insulin products commonly used in clinical treatments, and 42 related products have entered the market with a price discount, the NHSA said.

The third-generation insulin products, compared to the second-generation ones, are less likely to cause hypoglycemia under the same blood sugar control. Ji Linong, head of the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism of Peking University People's Hospital, said that the third-generation insulin analogues, which are now widely applied, can simulate the normal insulin secretion of the human body, enabling patients to take injections on a more flexible basis and increasing their treatment compliance. "The procurement program narrows the price gap between the second- and third-generation insulin products, giving patients more options to manage their blood sugar level with safer drugs," Ji added.

In China, the number of diabetes patients aged between 20 and 79 stood at 140 million in 2021, and the figure is expected to reach 164 million by 2030, statistics from the International Diabetes Federation showed. (Source: Xinhua)

April: Hainan's special health zone pulls in more patients

The first and currently the only special medical zone in China, the Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Qionghai, Hainan province, which provides world-class medical tourism services to domestic and international patients, has experienced a rapid increase in visitors. In the first two months of this year, the number of visitors to Lecheng was 34,651, a year-on-year growth of 37.2%, and the combined number of patients licensed to use medical devices and drugs was 1,546, representing an annual growth of 58.40%.

The pilot zone was established with the approval of the State Council in 2013 and has been granted a number of preferential policies. "Lecheng is able to make use of medical devices and drugs licensed abroad but not yet in China, providing patients with advanced international-standard diagnosis and treatment," said Yan Lukai, publicity director of the zone's administration.

The pilot zone has set up an independent regulatory regime for devices and drugs that manages approval, customs clearance, use and supervision. With approval, companies can obtain special licenses to use first-in-class drugs and equipment, permitting patients to benefit from innovative global pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

The zone has a unique supervision platform capable of tracking the process of importing medical devices. It has a simplified approval policy that adopts online approval, and a shortened processing time from 27 days to under a week. A bonded warehouse for imported medications has also been built to facilitate imports. "We have introduced measures to permit specially approved drugs to be taken out of the pilot zone, which means that patients no longer have to be hospitalized here each time they need to make use of the drugs in question," Yan said. "Under the measures, patients are permitted to take a small amount of oral medications for urgent clinical and personal needs out of Lecheng."

The zone has introduced some 300 urgently needed medical devices and drugs, and become the most important pathway for innovative international medical products to enter the Chinese market. It has also established relations with nearly 80 pharmaceutical device and drug manufacturers in 18 countries, and cooperates extensively with the top 30 international companies in the field, the administration said.

Currently, 25 medical institutions operate in Lecheng, public, private and international, and 24 additional institutions are under construction or in preparation. The first public hospital in the pilot zone, the Ruijin-Hainan Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine opened for trial operations in December, 2021. Gu Zhidong, president of the hospital, explained that Ruijin-Hainan chose Lecheng because it planned to build a second regional medical center outside Shanghai, and the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port has created an opportunity for high-quality medical services. "With special policies and better access to the latest international devices and methods, we can improve the overall development level of Ruijin Hospital," Gu said. International institutions — including Singapore's top private integrated medical group Raffles, and South Korea's JK Plastic Surgery — also have a presence in the zone.

To fill the gap in insurance for imported medicines, the zone introduced its own in 2020. Last year, it covered 100 drugs for 35 common cancers, and 17 for rare diseases. When a patient from Hainan's Qiongzhong Li and Miao autonomous county was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma three years ago, his doctor advised him to use the latest immunotherapy drug in China, which cost about 555,500 yuan a year. Luckily, he had paid for the zone's special insurance policy, and the cost of treatment was covered. "We hope that more people will be able to use innovative international medical devices and drugs at less expense," Yan said. "Lecheng is committed to attracting patients who would otherwise go overseas for medical treatment, healthcare and beauty treatment. "Hopefully the medical tourism market in Lecheng will also appeal to foreigners, especially people from Southeast Asia," he added. (Source: China Daily)

March: Latest round of bulk buying saves patients more money

The eighth and latest round of the government's centralized medical procurement has resulted in an average price cut of 56% for 39 types of medicines, including the antiviral drug Oseltamivir and popular blood pressure therapies, the National Healthcare Security Administration said on Wednesday evening. The price reduction is expected to save 16.7 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) annually, it added. The bidding result released on Wednesday is preliminary and a final version will be published in the near future.

The bidding, held in Lingshui Li autonomous county in Hainan province on Wednesday, involved 366 medical products from 251 enterprises, and around 70% of participating companies ended up winning bids. "On average, around 6.5 companies have been chosen for every type of medicine, suggesting that supplies of these drugs are becoming more diversified and stable," the administration said.

This round of centralized procurement has covered a number of drugs for common and chronic diseases, such as anti-infection drugs, as well as medications for cardiovascular diseases, allergies and mental illnesses. A number of drug categories that generate annual sales of more than 1 billion yuan are included.

The price of the oral suspension of Oseltamivir — an antiviral drug highly sought after during flu season — has fallen by 83%. "Antibiotics have also seen their prices fall, which means that the economic motive behind the overuse of antibiotics has been removed and will help promote adequate drug use," the administration said.

The price of amlodipine tablets — a commonly used medication for treating high blood pressure — has also dropped by 48%. The price of Atosiban injections for preterm labor has decreased by 80% to around 240 yuan per dose.

The previous seven rounds of centralized procurement since 2018, covering a total of 294 types of medicines, have led to an average price cut of over 50%. The three rounds of procurement targeting medical consumables have resulted in an average price reduction of more than 80%. These national programs, coupled with regional bulk-buy programs, have saved more than 400 billion yuan for patients, according to the administration. (Source: China Daily)

February: Health insurance reform to better meet needs of patients: NHSA

The ongoing health insurance reform process is being conducted in response to the people's growing demand for reimbursing outpatient medical bills, said healthcare authorities. It will benefit more outpatients with no need for extra input from employers and employees, said the National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA).

Established in 1998, the basic health insurance system for urban employees and retirees consists of two parts: mandatory personal accounts which previously received contributions from both employees and their employers and which mainly paid for general outpatient services and medicine expenses; and a pooled fund contributed by employers that was mainly used to reimburse hospitalization bills.

Given the great changes in China's society and economy over the past two decades, it has become increasingly difficult for the mechanism to meet the needs of the public in terms of receiving outpatient services, said the NHSA.

First of all, chronic diseases have become the main type of illness affecting the health and well-being of Chinese people, said the NHSA, noting that they are responsible for over 85% of deaths in China and the medical expenses they incur account for more than 70% of the overall financial burden of medical care. The most effective means to treat chronic diseases is to pay visits to outpatient departments for early detection and treatment of these illnesses. However, the existing system which requires employees and retirees to cover these expenses with personal accounts is not enough to address such needs.

Second, with rapid development in medical technologies, many medical examinations and operations, once only available in inpatient services, can now be provided through outpatient services, which led to an increasing number of visits to outpatient departments. Between 2001 and 2021, the number of visits to general outpatient and emergency departments nationwide increased by 312% from 1.95 billion to 8.04 billion, according to the NHSA. The limited amount of funds in personal accounts cannot cover the expenses generated.

Third, China has become an aging society. The number of seniors aged 65 and above grew from 90.62 million to 205 million in the decade through 2021, making up 14.2% of China's total population. Compared to younger people, elderly people are more likely to fall ill, and are usually patients suffering from multiple chronic diseases. They tend to pay more visits to outpatient departments and generate heftier medical bills.

Due to the insufficient reimbursement of outpatient medical bills under the old system, some elderly residents chose to save money by not visiting outpatient departments, which eventually caused their illnesses to worsen, said the NHSA. After the reform, contributions from employers are fed into unified accounts, instead of individual saving accounts, to support the reimbursement of general outpatient bills.

Following the reform, the basic health insurance system for urban employees will be able to reimburse outpatient medical bills in more regions of the country. Furthermore, individuals already receiving reimbursement for outpatient medical bills will enjoy higher reimbursement rates.

While some people who rarely go to the doctor have dormant funds in their personal accounts, some others find themselves running out of personal account deposits due to frequent hospital visits. Through the reform, the health insurance funds will provide much needed financial support for the latter. In the meantime, with general outpatient services becoming reimbursable, the pressure on inpatient departments at medical institutions can be alleviated. Particularly, the shortage of hospital beds in major medical institutions will be addressed. This will facilitate the reasonable distribution of medical resources and ensure it goes to the patients in need.

The reform provides better protection of retired people, who will, compared with working people, have lower threshold and higher percentage of reimbursement. In addition, following the reform, the insured are allowed to use the money in their personal accounts to help their family members, including their elderly parents.

Launched in 2021, the reform saw the pooled fund help employees save 108.6 billion yuan (about $15.75 billion) when receiving general outpatient services in 2022, according to the NHSA. More efforts will be made to help localities optimize reform measures, said the NHSA, noting that more pharmacies will be added to the system, supporting efforts to cover outpatient expenses through unified accounts. (Source: Xinhua)

February: China's mental health better than expected in 2022

Chinese people's mental health was "generally good" last year, with about one in 10 adults at risk of depression, according to a report released on Thursday. The rate of adults prone to depression stood at 10.6% in 2022, slightly down from the level recorded in 2020, according to a report led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Psychology.

The report was based on a nationwide survey involving about 200,000 people and was released during a news conference in Beijing. Chen Zhiyan, a professor at the institute and an editor of the report, said that the mild decrease is partly attributed to increasing accessibility and convenience of mental health services in recent years. "In addition, because the average age of survey participants was a bit younger than that of the previous report, and mental health usually improves with increasing age, the rate was lower," she said.

Furthermore, the report said that people who have a steady job and a stable romantic relationship, exercise regularly and take a nap at noon tend to be at less risk of experiencing depression. The report reaffirmed a widely recognized trend that mental health issues are more widespread among teenagers and young adults. The risk of depression among 18 to 24 year olds was the highest among all age groups, at 24.1%, it said.

A separate report focusing on teenagers was also released on Thursday and showed that 14.8% of people aged 10 to 16 were at risk of depression, including four percent whose risk level was deemed high. In addition, about two in five teenagers sometimes or frequently felt lonely, neglected or had difficulty mixing with peers, and about 33% said they could not stand being separated from their mobile phones, suggesting potential addiction to electronic devices.

Guo Fei, a researcher at the institute who was involved in writing the report, said comprehensive efforts are needed to enhance the mental health of teenagers, such as conducting annual evaluations of the mental status of students and ensuring that they get enough sleep and outdoor activities. "While some local governments have begun to regularly assess the psychological condition of students, it is important to expand such practices to more areas and devise assessment questionnaires that are tailored to the culture and customs of Chinese people," she said. (Source: China Daily)

February: High-tech system finds children with vision problems

Chinese scientists have developed a smartphone-based deep learning system for early detection of visual impairments in young children. A report on the system was published in the international science journal Nature Medicine last week. The research was conducted by a team led by Lin Haotian, a professor at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center of the Sun Yat-sen University.

The system is designed to induce a steady gaze in children by using cartoon-like video imagery. Cameras capture features of the subjects for further analysis, using deep-learning models. Capable of identifying 16 ophthalmic disorders, such as congenital cataracts, congenital ptosis and congenital glaucoma, the system delivers an average screening accuracy of more than 85%, the report said.

Early detection of visual impairment is crucial but frequently missed in young children, who are capable of only limited cooperation with standard vision tests. In the study, more than 25 million frames of videos from 3,652 children were collected based on deep-learning software used in the Tianhe-2 supercomputing center in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. The system has the potential to be used by healthcare professionals, parents and caregivers for identifying young children with visual impairments. (Source: China Daily)

January: Updated reimbursement list

China will add 111 drugs to its national medical reimbursement list this year, with a focus on including treatments for infections, COVID-19 drugs and advanced medications for children's diseases and tumors, the National Healthcare Security Administration said on Wednesday. Among them, 108 drugs were added following successful negotiations with manufacturers, with average prices slashed by 60.1%, Huang Xinyu, an official with the administration, said during a news conference.

Meanwhile, three drugs whose licenses have been revoked will be removed from the list, putting the total number of drugs on the list at 2,967, including 1,586 western (chemical/biological) drugs and 1,381 Chinese patent medicines.

The latest update includes 56 drugs for chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, psychoactive disease, etc.), 23 for tumor, 17 for anti-infection, 7 for rare diseases, and two for COVID-19. The two COVID-19 drugs are Azvudine, a homegrown oral pill, and Qingfei Paidu granules, a traditional Chinese medicine. Currently, all COVID-19 therapies, including antiviral drugs, are covered by the national medical insurance program under temporary measures that will expire on March 31. (Source: China Daily)

January: Government to cover Covid-19 treatment costs until at least March

Patients needing treatment for COVID-19 will not have to foot pricey bills for hospitalization out of their own pockets until at least the end of March, according to authorities. Additionally, outpatient costs will be more generously refunded if incurred at smaller hospitals serving vast rural areas, they added.

The policies were outlined in a circular released on Saturday by the National Healthcare Security Administration, the Ministry of Finance, the National Health Commission and the National Administration for Disease Prevention and Control.

For the last few years, the State has settled all expenses for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 at centralized isolation facilities. Payment liability issues were only brought to the fore early last month, when health authorities allowed patients to be treated at any hospital of their choice.

The circular said the State will continue to pay for hospitalization costs until at least March 31, as long as patients conform to the diagnosis and treatment plan for novel coronavirus infections, as COVID-19 has been officially known in China since Dec 26. The disease was previously called novel coronavirus pneumonia.

Hospitalization costs, usually incurred by older patients in critical condition, will be collectively paid by the national medical aid program for families in financial difficulty, local finance authorities, and two State-run healthcare plans with almost universal coverage on the mainland — basic medical insurance and insurance for severe illnesses. Central finance pledged it will give compensation of up to 60 percent of local finance payment liabilities.

However, the liabilities for outpatient spending vary. The circular said that COVID-19 patients seeking medical advice at Grade 1 hospitals, or grassroots medical institutions such as township hospitals, will have at least 70 percent of their spending covered by the State, as part of an incentive for patients to avoid busier hospitals in major cities.

The exact ratio will be determined by local medical insurance and finance departments depending on the state of their insurance funds. "In principle, local authorities do not set thresholds for reimbursable costs or cap the refunds at grassroots medical institutions."

In comparison, spending at higher-level hospitals — including for outpatient services and emergency treatment — will be reimbursed at the same rate as other Class B infectious diseases, which are constrained by a reimbursement threshold and a refund cap, the circular said. (Source: China Daily)

January: Price negotiations begin between Chinese officials and Pharma companies

The latest round of price negotiations between Chinese officials and pharmaceutical companies aiming to have their products included on China's medical reimbursement list kicked off on Thursday, the National Healthcare Security Administration said. Over 100 types of medications are involved in the talks, including therapies for COVID-19 as well as drugs for cancer and rare diseases, the administration said.

The national reimbursement list has been updated ever since the NHSA's establishment in 2018. The list currently contains 2,860 drugs. As a result of price negotiations, drugs that have been added to the list have seen an average price cut of over 50%. (Source: China Daily)

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