Chinese health minister Gao Qiang has called on medical institutions across the country to place public health interests above profit. The move comes after a recent high-profile case in which a dying cancer patient was charged CNY5.5mn (US$0.68mn) for two months of treatment. An online survey showed that over 70% of respondents supported reform of the country's medical system.

Qiang has claimed that the public health sector is being left behind by China's rapid economic growth and that changes in the management and operations of hospitals were needed. In October, the government approved plans to lower the prices of 22 categories of medicines by up to 40%. Hospitals dispense roughly 80% of drugs in China, with pharmaceuticals accounting for over two-thirds of costs. The minister has also called for hospitals to control the level of salaries of medical staffs, passing the savings on to patients.

Doctors in the country often demand up front cash payments to administer treatment, with less than one-third of the Chinese population having health insurance. A study conducted in 1998 claimed that 42% of patients discharged from hospitals, did so due to a lack of money. Corruption in hospital drug procurement is also reported to be rampant.

President Hu Jintao has promised to overhaul the system, which some economists claim is holding back the country's development. Healthcare costs in China are already equivalent to 40% of family disposable income.