BEIJING â€” Well before dawn, nearly a hundred people stood in line outside one of the capitalâ€™s top hospitals.
They were hoping to get an appointment with a specialist, a chance for access to the best health care in the country. Scalpers hawked medical visits for a fee, ignoring repeated crackdowns by the government.
Then, there are the scandals. In July, hundreds of thousands of children were found to have been injected with faulty vaccines. The news angered the public, rattling confidence in the government and amplifying frustration with the health care system.
While the wealthy have access to the best care in top hospitals with foreign doctors, most people are relegated to overcrowded hospitals. In the countryside, people must rely on village clinics, or travel hundreds of miles to find the closest facility.
The country does not have a functioning primary care system, the first line of defense for illness and injury. China has one general practitioner for every 6,666 people, compared with the international standard of one for every 1,500 to 2,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.
Instead of going to a doctorâ€™s office or a community clinic, people rush to the hospitals to see specialists, even for fevers and headaches. This winter, flu-stricken patients camped out overnight with blankets in the corridors of several Beijing hospitals, according to state media.
Hospitals are understaffed and overwhelmed. Specialists are overworked, seeing as many as 200 patients a day.