China's political advisers put spotlight on people's livelihoods

The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – China's top political advisory body – opened its annual session on Thursday, kicking off the year's biggest domestic political gathering, which had been postponed and shortened due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The CPPCC National Committee members submitted proposals covering such areas as the economy, culture, the environment and even people's well-being, 1,185 of which focus on people's livelihoods. 

Against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, support for vulnerable populations, public health and elderly care tops the agenda. 

Read more: China's top political advisory body starts annual session

Poverty alleviation

This year is especially important as it is the last year of China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). It is the final year for the country to create "a moderately prosperous society in all aspects" and reach its goal to eliminate absolute poverty.

China is approaching its poverty alleviation goals, as the number of impoverished people fell from some 100 million in 2012 to 5.5 million by the end of 2019. However, the arrival of COVID-19 has made the efforts tougher. 

Since 2013, China has engaged in a nationwide poverty alleviation program involving some 770,000 officials from governments, universities and state-owned enterprises to help rural residents improve their overall living standards. Over the years, the program has led to the development of industries, built public infrastructure and improved literacy and medical services.

It is largely executed through a top-down approach, with government and Party officials responsible for making plans for cities and towns to implement.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, CPPCC members in central China's Hunan Province have revisited low-income households to offer support during the crisis.

"The people in poorer areas are still our responsibility after they are lifted out of poverty," said Li Weiwei, provincial CPPCC chairwoman of Hunan. The government's supportive policies need to continue to address relative poverty in the long term, Li said.

In the past four decades, some 700 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Public health

In recent years, China has quickened the pace of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the establishment of a national medicine-tracking system.

In October 2019, China unveiled guidelines to promote the preservation and innovative development of TCM. Boosting the development of TCM is of great significance to developing a model of healthcare featuring the complementary and coordinated progress of TCM and Western medicine.

The guidance stressed the efforts to be made to improve the quality and service system of TCM, give full play to its unique strengths in maintaining and promoting people's health, and to boost the high-quality development of the industry. In addition, measures to cultivate talent in the field and reform management within TCM were outlined.

This move will greatly boost the application of TCM in China and abroad. As in the COVID-19 pandemic, Lianhua Qingwen, a patent drug containing 13 Chinese herbal medicines, has proven to be effective in treating mild COVID-19 cases through clinical trials, China's top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said. The medication has shown efficacy in inhibiting the virus and repairing cell injuries and inflammation caused by the virus. Meanwhile, it helps reduce the recovery time for those with mild symptoms. So far, it has been approved and registered in eight countries, with sights set on more markets.

As of May 4, China declared a total of 322 clinical protocols for COVID-19, leading the world. TCM accounts for more than a third of all Chinese protocols, reaching 110. However, while medicine can mitigate COVID-19 symptoms, a vaccine is the ultimate way to cure the disease.

At the opening ceremony of the CPPCC meeting, Zheng Jianbang, vice chairperson of the 13th National Committee, said a national medicine (vaccine) tracking system was set up to enable the traceability of all medicines (vaccines) on the Chinese market. The service platform is connected with online systems for immunization programs and those for vaccine data to integrate information on vaccine production, circulation and inoculation.

The system helps strengthen the management of vaccines, ensure their quality and supply and regulate vaccination. It comes as scientists are racing to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, a process that requires long and rigorous vetting. The traceability of vaccines is expected to put an end to fake vaccines for COVID-19 once developed.

Elderly care

The epidemic has highlighted the urgent need to improve social welfare for the elderly, who have been the most vulnerable to COVID-19-related complications.

China has been steadily improving the country's elderly care services in recent years to address the challenges of a rapidly aging population. The industry is increasingly diversified thanks to the streamlined administrative approval and opening-up of the elderly care market.

The National Development and Reform Commission and 17 other government departments last year rolled out a plan to fully open up the market to meet the growing demand.

In September, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued guidelines on expanding the supply and boosting the consumption of elder care services. This year's political sessions will carry them through with a detailed implementation plan.

The guidelines outline 17 policy measures for six key areas, such as optimizing supply and demand, promoting a diversified consumer market, strengthening consumer protection and improving market supervision.

China aims to equip all communities in the country with elderly-care facilities and train 10,000 nursing home managers, two million caregivers and 100,000 full-time and part-time geriatric social workers by 2022, according to the guidelines.

(Text by Wang Xiaonan, Zhou Minxi, Zeng Ziyi

Cover image designed by Feng Yuan)