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Disabled, Elderly Need Attention
2006-05-23 13:50:09    Shenzhen Daily
Demand for medical equipment for the handicapped and elderly far exceeds the supply in China, and a group representing the disabled wants the problem addressed through legislation and government support.
Less than 10 percent of disabled people in mainland cities have access to the equipment they need, and the situation is worse in rural areas, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said yesterday. 

More than 700 types of equipment for the disabled are officially listed but less than 300 are produced, according to Cheng Kai, vice president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation. 

Advocates say part of the problem rests with the manufacturers' reluctance to produce equipment on a small scale. A survey of elderly people's needs between 2003 and 2005 showed demand to be valued at 600 billion yuan (US$75b) a year, but the market only supplied 100 billion yuan worth of products. 

"The demand for any one type of equipment is not very big, and they cannot be mass produced quickly," said Xu Xiaoming, director of the China Disabled People's Equipment Development and Supply Station. 

Living conditions for the country's 60 million disabled people are poor. About 70 percent of impoverished people in rural areas have some sort of disability, and in urban areas the percentage can be as high as 90 percent. "More than half of the 26 million people living in poverty are handicapped," Cheng said. The official standard for poverty is a yearly income of less than 667 yuan. 

Cheng said lawmakers now amending the law on disabled people's rights should include provisions for tax breaks or financing for equipment manufacturers. 

Although large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou already had special funds for disabled people, "government support is very limited in terms of the whole country, and it has only just begun," Cheng said. 

Since the late 1990s, the central government has handed out 12 million yuan in subsidies for certain types of medical equipment, and distributed 340,000 pieces of medical equipment to handicapped people between 2003 and 2005. Cheng said the aim was to provide rehabilitation treatment to a further 8 million handicapped people by 2010 and to make the treatment universal by 2015. 

China is an ageing country, with 143 million people over the age of 60. Over the next 15 years, there will be 6.6 million more elderly people each year on average.
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