Leaf Baxter was born with optic nerve displasia, a developmental disorder that leaves infants effectively blind. There is no treatment for Leaf available in the West, so his parents brought him to China for a cutting-edge umbilical stem cell therapy.
Yes, Chinese health care has come a long way since the day of the barefoot doctor. China has become a medical equipment manufacturing powerhouse and a pharmaceutical research center. On the demand side, health care spending is projected to grow at 11% through 2012. Chinese firms – both domestic and foreign-invested – are looking at a wide swathe of new opportunities. At the same time, China faces an enormous public health challenge: to provide universal health coverage to all citizens by 2020.
In this issue of Focus we survey selected portions of China’s health care sector. We follow Leaf Baxter’s progress, and tell the story of Beike Biotechnology, the company that developed his treatment, on page 10.
Until recently, many Chinese research firms were making copycat drugs and struggling with low profit margins. Foreign investment in the sector failed to deliver the technology transfer Chinese firms hoped for. Recently there have been noted improvements, but there are still a few flies in the ointment (see "Drugs are good" on page 8).
The growth of China’s middle class has seen the diseases of poverty replaced by the syndromes of wealth. For expatriates and Chinese alike, the country’s rapid modernization has come with its share of modern stress, depression, and loneliness. Dr Peter Calafiura of Parkway Health talks about mental health in China on page 6.
We also consider more pleasant treatment options. For example, the traditional Chinese bath house concept is morphing into a luxury spa that fuses traditional Chinese medical treatments with pampered relaxation (see "Rest cure" on page 13). And then there are the treatments that aren’t treatments. Despite the global recession, the future of elective cosmetic surgery and dentistry in China still looks bright (see "Mirror, please" on page 11).
Finally, you can’t talk about health without talking about health insurance. Adam Francis of AIG gives us his thoughts on the development of the private health insurance system in China (see "Teaching insurance," page 5).