Healthcare in China is widely available, with clinics in most villages, but in many rural areas the facilities are pretty basic. Costs at public hospitals are low and standards vary. In the major cities good medical healthcare is available, but it is well worth researching hospitals before you actually need one so you don't have to make a decision under pressure in an emergency situation. Alternatively, if you have private health insurance with CIGNA & CMB you can simply speak to one of our international health advisors who will be able to help you.
Medical facilities in the international hospitals are excellent and many common drugs are available over the counter. In addition, traditional medicine treatments, such as acupuncture, cupping and herbal remedies, are widely used in China, especially in rural areas.
Domestically, China ranks 108th in the world in terms of life expectancy and is 103rd in infant mortality rates*.
While no vaccinations are required for a trip to China (except for Yellow Fever if you're arriving from an infected area), it is advisable to see your physician at least four to six weeks before departure to discuss other vaccines. Recommended vaccinations for those spending extended time in China include Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, MMR, Typhoid and Tuberculosis.
High profile health issues in China include altitude sickness, which can occur in mountainous regions of Qinghai, parts of Xinjiang and western Sichuan. There have been confirmed cases of Swine Flu in mainland China and a total of 18 human cases of Avian Flu have been reported in the last five years. You are unlikely to be affected by this disease, but as a precaution it's advisable to avoid animal markets and places where you could come into contact with live poultry. Malaria has been almost eradicated in China and is not generally a risk in city areas. However, it is still to be found in rural areas, mainly in the southwestern region of the country.
Outbreaks of SARS, a pneumonia-like disease, are equally rare, while Japanese encephalitis has killed a number of people in the country's northern provinces and rabies does infect people every year, although deaths are few and far between. There are also occasional outbreaks of Dengue Fever - minimise the risk by careful use of mosquito repellent.
On a day-to-day basis, you should be careful with food and water. It's best to drink only bottled water outside of the major cities and advisable to boil or sterilise all water used for drinking, brushing teeth or freezing. Peeled fruit and cooked food should be no problem.
In large Chinese cities such as Shanghai or Beijing, there are an increasing number of private clinics owned and managed by Western doctors or Chinese doctors who have graduated from the USA or the UK. They treat and manage patients to Western standards, but their fees tend to be high.
Our international health advisors can help you determine which facility would be right for you. It's helpful to find out what to do out of hours or in an emergency. Emergency services do exist in China but ambulances from public hospitals are often unavailable and often do not have sophisticated equipment or well-trained personnel. In an emergency you are probably better off calling us to help you to a foreign-run hospital, or calling the hospital directly and getting a taxi if this is appropriate.
There are various different types of hospital in China. Foreign-run hospitals and clinics are the most reassuring but expensive option. Here you will find modern medical facilities with Western standards and international staff. However, you will pay the price for that peace of mind with treatments often costing more than ten times the fee for the same procedure in a public hospital. The international hospitals are more likely to accept foreign or expat health insurance policies than their public counterparts but you should check in advance by calling us.
Anyone - including foreigners - can use the public hospitals and clinics in China. Prices are cheap but you may not get the treatment you are used to in your own country. There is no appointment system so you need to wait in line, pay the basic fee and then pay again for each treatment required. Be aware - most Chinese public hospitals do not accept international medical insurance.
The Chinese medical care system is improving all the time but if you need to visit a doctor in a public hospital, especially in a small city, be prepared for a cultural shock. Most staff do not speak English and standards leave something to be desired when it comes to privacy and hygiene.
Some public hospitals in the larger cities have 'VIP' or 'Foreigner' wards where prices are higher and the technology is more up to date. These wards are more likely to have English-speaking staff but you may still encounter problems due to cultural differences.
In rural areas facilities can be basic and medical personnel are often poorly trained with limited access to equipment and medicines. Many locals in these areas still rely on traditional Chinese medicine.
Pharmacies in China are easy to find but English-speaking pharmacists are not. And while the packaging may have the drug name in English the accompanying information will be in Chinese. You can get medicine at the foreign hospitals (although this will be more expensive) and if you urgently need a drug that is not available in mainland China you may be able to get it in Hong Kong. Again, we are here to help should such a need arise.
China has one of the longest recorded histories of medicine records of any existing civilisation. The methods of traditional Chinese medicine have developed over more than 2,000 years.
* The World Factbook, CIA.