The Economist: In Poor Countries it is Easier Than Ever to See a Medic

The Economist quotes REAP's research on China's rural healthcare system. The full article can be read here.

Following the formulation of the UN’s “sustainable development” goals in 2015, governments worldwide have committed to expanding access to primary care services. Experts believe that primary care can address about 90% of health problems and it has been found to be related to higher life expectancy and lower child mortality rates. However, experts are concerned that a lack of access to primary care and the poor quality of health services will be incapable of meeting the growing burden of chronic illness in poor countries. 

The WHO calculated that about 400 million people globally are unable to access “essential health services,” such as antenatal care and treatment for tuberculosis. However, this figure does not take into account the global burden of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Non-communicable diseases are expected to account for over 70% of deaths in developing countries by 2020, but findings from the World Bank and WHO demonstrate that access to treatments for these diseases are severely deficient. For example, it is estimated that more than half of individuals in developing countries with hypertension are not aware they have this condition, and between 24% and 62% of individuals with diabetes do not receive treatment.

In addition to access and utilization of primary care services, there are concerns that the quality of medical care is poor in developing countries and regions and, therefore, cannot meet the needs of patients. To demonstrate deficiencies in the quality of medical care, the Economist cited research conducted by Sean Sylvia, a professor at Renmin University of China and REAP collaborator, that sent standardized patients to township health centers in Shaanxi province. This research found that health workers spent less than two minutes with patients on average, gave correct diagnoses only 26% of the time, and provided a wrong diagnoses in 41% of the study cases. 

Findings such as these demonstrate the need for improvements in primary care systems across the world. In order to see that these improvements are realized, further research is necessary to develop evidence that can help leaders understand why many individuals do not receive the medical care that they need.