Is China’s Medical System Pandemic-Proof?


It makes perfect sense to put the Chinese medical system under the proverbial microscope with a clear or at least clearer head, now that the proper context for “digesting” the lessons we have (hopefully) learned after the Covid-19 crisis presents itself. Please note that this article will refer almost exclusively to what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us. For a detailed analysis of the Chinese medical system itself, please read the article we have dedicated to precisely this topic by clicking HERE and in fact, we would strongly recommend doing so before continuing with this article.

As a bit of a bit overview, we will limit ourselves to stating that the Chinese medical system represents yet another example of a sector of the Chinese economy which has seen tremendous progress over the past few years and decades but despite the progress in question which is undeniable, it still lags strongly behind compared to its Western counterparts.

In the spirit of brutal honesty, we will start with a short but incomplete answer to the question that constitutes the title of this article.

Is China’s medical system pandemic-proof?


This answer, however, tells us far too little in the absence of additional context.

As such, another question becomes relevant:

Is the medical system of any nation at this point in time convincingly pandemic-proof?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is once again negative.

A textbook example to that effect is represented by what happened in Northern Italy, a wealthy region of a wealthy European Union nation, a region praised for having a relatively efficient medical system… certainly one more efficient than what China is currently able to offer. However, despite this seemingly optimistic reality, it has become more than apparent that no, not even an advanced medical system such as the one found in Northern Italy is truly pandemic-proof.

To be more precise, what we mean by pandemic-proof is a system capable of withstanding a sudden surge in patients through its existing facilities rather than having to resort to more or less improvised options. The Covid-19 situation represented an example of a calamity brought about by a virus that is both highly contagious and leads to a relatively high percentage of patients who need ICU services. This combination has proven to be too much, with healthcare systems not being able to cope with such a sudden increase in medical service demand, not even those of highly developed nations.

As such:

  1. More or less improvised solutions needed to be found, with even hallways or various annexes turned into quarantine units
  2. Those with other affections also suffering in light of the fact that the primarily Covid-19-oriented focus left many chronic patients with their needs unmet, from appointments that needed to be re-scheduled to even shortages of chronic illness medicine
  3. Doctors and generally speaking medical personnel feeling the full weight of the burden they had to carry, with there simply not being enough manpower in various medical systems to withstand the previously mentioned demand surge
  4. To make matters worse, medical personnel protection was oftentimes inadequate for reasons which frequently revolved around chronic a lack of relevant supplies such as protective gear and therefore, as doctors and other medical personnel became ill due to Covid-19 exposure, the limits of the healthcare system became even more apparent

As can be seen, not even considerably wealthier regions on a per capita basis such as Northern Italy are immune and therefore, the brutally honest answer is that at this point in time, there is no such thing as a medical system that would be able to seamlessly withstand a surge in demand consistent with a pandemic brought about by a virus that is both highly contagious and leads to a relatively large percentage of patients who require hospitalization.

Has China tried approaches one can consider different compared to the West?

Yes, for example approaches pertaining to offering TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) treatments alongside traditional ones but at this point in time, there is little in the way of peer-reviewed evidence which illustrates success in that department. For more information about Traditional Chinese Medicine from an economic perspective (we prefer leaving the medical dimension to medical professionals), click HERE to read the article we have dedicated to TCM.

All in all, what IS the solution?

A superficial analysis would result in solutions such as simply hiring additional medical staff. That, however, is easier said than done in light of the fact that it would represent a financial effort the overwhelming majority of nations would not be able to handle. As great as it may sound in theory, simply hiring enough additional personnel until there is an adequate enough number to withstand even the most pessimistic of scenarios is rather unfeasible.

Instead, solutions will most likely involve creative short-term scaling mechanisms so that when disaster strikes, medical systems will have more coherent protocols than the present-day ones and especially access to at least the infrastructure it takes to tackle these issues properly, from additional locations to an adequate flow of supplies and emergency supply chains. Furthermore, as the Italian case study once again makes clear, it seems the authorities have properly understood just how important it is to act in a swift manner so as to flatten the case number curve so that critical values are avoided. Preventing rather than curing bottleneck issues, if you will.

This much is certain: the Covid-19 situation represents a humbling experience for all parties involved, one which should make it clear how important it is to analyze the healthcare systems of pretty much all nations (including China) in a brutally honest manner so as to identify limitations/vulnerabilities and figure out how to best address them in a sustainable manner. Challenges inevitably lie ahead as well as, of course, opportunities for those who are able to put forth efficient solutions.

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