China's health governance experience for global inspiration
David Lee

Editor's note: David Lee is a Beijing-based consultant and author mainly writing about energy, health, international politics and international development. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

How does China's health governance stack up against other countries? The world's most populous country is home to 1.4 billion people, with a fast-changing demographic increasingly affected by aging issues, notably higher non-communicable disease burdens.

Health in China affects humankind's overall progress towards achieving one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified by the United Nations, namely, good health and well-being.

Ahead of 2020, China has presented a generous gift not only to its population but to the whole international community, by passing the country's first comprehensive health law, which is to enter into force on June 1, 2020. 

Not every country endeavors to develop a comprehensive health law. A somewhat prevailing logic is that health issues, including their related science and technology, are fast-changing, and such a law may make the health system rigid and less adaptive to change.

Many industrialized societies do have some form of comprehensive health law to provide critical regulatory infrastructure for national health governance. China is one of the first emerging economies to develop a fundamental health law.

The Basic Healthcare and Health Promotion Law, as is the title of the China health law, features an ambitious scope. It covers the provision of health care services, the management of health care service providers and practitioners, the supply of pharmaceutical products as well as health promotion and education, health finance, oversight, and accountability. 

Building on four decades of reform and opening-up, China is in a position to sum up all the priority areas of a national health agenda, including the fundamental approaches to tackle issues in each area.

A hospital.

A hospital.

Moreover, the law calls for specific rules and regulations to be developed for individual priority areas of health work. It also calls for innovation and targeted efforts at the sub-national level to deal with local health priorities, as China is a vast country affected by disparities in economic development.

That said, the fundamental health law of China offers the framework to put in all the most valuable takeaways of four decades of health progress and lays down the foundation for future health regulatory development. With the fundamental health law in place, China is actively promoting its modern health governance.

As each country has its unique demographics, health profile, and economic development, a state must develop the right governance approach in its context. China has done exactly that.

A couple of observations about China's health governance development can provide sound references to other developing countries and emerging economies.

Firstly, health governance includes both executive branch and legislative bodies. In China's case, they are the State Council and its line ministries, and the National People's Congress. Throughout the rapid socio-economic transformation, the Chinese government has developed a highly adaptive series of health action plans, most recently under the umbrella of Healthy China 2030 Strategy.

Such quick response measures by the executive branch come in the form of three-to-five-year plans, highly adaptive, and targeted to the specific health needs. National health legislation arrives later as both a fruit of past health work and a reliable tool for future development. 

Secondly, China understands that involvement by the government's health sector only will not be enough for the well-being of its population. Therefore, a national fundamental health law institutionalizes vertical (national vs. sub-national) and horizontal (cross-sectoral) cooperation for effective health policy implementation.

Recent years have represented the most exciting progress of health work in China. Encouraging evidence suggests China is becoming a global health governance leader. In this process, China is also responsible for sharing its health governance experience with the international community for further international cooperation.

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