China’s pharmaceutical market looks set to grow even further in the short-term, with the establishment of an Essential Medicines System during the 2009-2011 period. The plan calls for an estimated 300-400 essential medicines to be made available at all public facilities, starting at the grassroots level.
The system is modelled after the WHO List of Essential Medicines, and its establishment is designed to widen access to medicines to all citizens, as part of its plans to create universal healthcare for all by 2020. The system is part of China’s mammoth healthcare reform plan, for which it has allocated US$124 billion (850 billion yuan) to be spent over three years.
In China, pharmaceuticals are sold in hospitals and drugstores, and the healthcare reform plan will inevitably see access to pharmaceuticals increase, as it will also involve the construction of around 2,000 county level hospitals, so that each county will have at least one such facility, the construction of 29,000 township hospitals and upgrading of another 5,000. The government will also fund the construction of village clinics in remote areas so that every village will have at least one unit by the end of the three-year period. The plan also calls for 3,700 community health centres and 11,000 community health stations to be established or upgraded in cities.
The Essential Medicines System is part of the country’s return to its socialist roots, which saw the adoption of market driven policies since the 1980s. This led to an expansion of the Chinese economy, but also saw the rich-poor gap divide grow. Over 700 million people (55.1% of the total population in 2007) were classed as rural in China, and per capita income levels remain some of the world’s lowest.
Further reading - An in-depth review of the Chinese pharmaceutical market, including more detailed information on the healthcare reform plan, is available from Espicom: The Pharmaceutical Market: China (published July 2009)