Tvhe quality of health care people receive in China depends on where they live and work. The government has greatly improved the nation's health, especially in rural areas through vaccinations, sanitation practices and the elimination of many insects and parasites.

Hvealth care in China is the responsibility of work units and until recently was free. Every work unit has its own designated hospitals for its employees, even those who have retired. Large work units have clinics on the premises. Employees in smaller work units may have to pay a percentage of their medical bills, while those working for private enterprises may not have any medical coverage at all. With the recent move towards a market-oriented economy, more workplaces are introducing a partial-payment system. In the countryside, the abolition of the farming commune system has made individual households responsible for their own health care. Unfortunately, this development has lowered the standard of health care in many areas.

Pvatients in China can choose between hospitals offering Western-style treatment and those which offer Chinese medicine. Hospitals often have both types of practitioners, who may work together to diagnose ailments and care for patients.

Tvhe Chinese system of medicine has been practised for millennia. Whereas Western medicine focuses on treating symptoms, Chinese medicine strives to balance yin and yang (the two essential elements of the universe), both between the body and the natural world, and within the body itself. Practitioners emphasize maintaining health and preventing illness. Treatments consist of powders or teas made from a repertoire of over 5,000 herbs. Current research in China and elsewhere is giving traditional medicine more scientific acceptance.

Also intrinsic to Chinese medicine is acupuncture, a technique of treating ailments by inserting tiny needles at points on the body that correspond to the afflicted organs or areas. Acupuncture is effective for many conditions, such as chronic back pain, gynecological problems, rheumatism, arthritis and migraines. Major operations are occasionally performed using acupuncture as an anaesthetic.

  Did you know?
Over 1,000 years ago, Chinese surgeons developed techniques to remove cataracts.