I am always amazed by the Chinese medical system, partly because it feels so very different yet effective (for some). Here were my thoughts:
I suppose it’s the approach that amazes me. China can’t be all that backwards because the 1.4 billion people aren’t in too bad a shape. The only issue is unending colds and phlegm which comes from hygeine issues rather than medical practice (and pollution).
Think about it, here it is traditional practice to have an IV. It’s like you get a cough and you just get an IV. You get a fever and you obviously get an IV. Why? because it’s effective faster, and besides, IVs have been used in China longer than “western” medicine has been in existence.
Chinese medicine isn’t really behind, but I think there are issues. Most people I know who don’t live in China just figure that medical aid isn’t available. That’s not the case. There is pretty good medical aid for many things, but there are some that they just can’t quite deal with in the best way possible. The hospitals I’ve been to are well staffed and equipped, though not that clean. That’s pretty much the story of most differences between the US and China. Hospitals in the US seem to be very clean white places, but China can’t quite manage that.
Most medicines are available in China, but they’re expensive for the average person. Most often when you see people who have been disfigured it has been because they’ve been through some disaster and not had the money during the time where they needed to go to the hospital.
China has a hard time dealing with long term debilitating illnesses. Things like muscular dystrophy and MS look more tragic here because you don’t see handicapped people active in society. Also, since some areas suffer chronic malnourishment, debilitating illnesses can be visually shocking and make up a big portion of beggars in cities. Some documentaries have shown that many of these beggars are part of groups that are run by people who are fairly well off. They roughly care for the person, but ensure that they look unbathed and have poor clothing, drop them off in the morning to beg, and pick them up at night to take home to sleep. Other research shows that beggars pull in more income than blue collar work.
Many places cannot set bones well. This is something I’ve seen improving over time, but I believe that in many areas bones aren’t set well, or people are forced to work on them too soon, causing permanent disfiguration.
China’s medical equipment, like it’s airlines, seems to be a blast from the past, using many other countries leftovers as well as locally produced mediocre equipment, so this makes more complex treatments questionable. Most cancer patients in China die quickly, or have very little assistance in treatment. I have yet to know anyone who has actually had chemotherapy in China.
Those are the areas where treatment is lacking. If you have some kind of standard illness, they have no problem dealing with it. Infections, asthma, ulcers, kidney stones, anything that’s more run of the mill, even teeth problems are easily dealt with. Add to that the use of traditional Chinese medicine to treat almost any medical condition, and it’s not bad at all to get medical treatment in China so long as you live in a city and have a decent income. The countryside (rural areas are extremely different from the city in terms of facilities) is a whole other story with much more tragedy.
I’m probably going to take this with some journal entries from 1998 and on and work it into a short piece on my experience with the Chinese medical system. Please let me know your thoughts and questions as it will help me out. :-)
Some of you who know me well will remember I was in the hospital for a week when I first came to China, I also received traditional medicine treatment for asthma, and since then I’ve been back to the hospital for numerous things. Amazingly enough, the SARS period was probably the first 7 month period in my life that I didn’t get sick.