Disparities in China’s Urban and Rural Healthcare

In an interview with Drum Tower, a podcast by The Economist, Dr. Winnie Yip discusses the historical disparities between the quality of urban and rural healthcare in China—particularly for primary care—and what the Chinese administration has done in recent decades in response to these issues.

One of Dr. Winnie Yip’s primary areas of expertise and research is in understanding health system reform in rural China, including the role of “barefoot doctors.” In her interview, Dr. Yip discusses not only the emergence of barefoot doctors in supporting China’s rural healthcare needs in the 1960s, but also the causes behind their subsequent disappearance in the 1980s.

The status of China’s limited rural healthcare options, as Dr. Yip explains, is that “community healthcare, township hospitals, village clinics [have] been neglected for about 20, 30 years—and the quality of care is poor.” Despite serious efforts in the last 5-8 years to improve this situation and regain public trust in the system, “it’s going to take time for people to really try to experience [the efforts made] and then have a change of mind [that] community care can be good.”

With the disruption to the healthcare system caused by COVID-19, Dr. Yip remains uncertain on how and if China can move forward building a sustainable and well-trusted primary healthcare system for both urban and rural populations.


  • The Drum Tower podcast episode, “A Tale of Two Chinas,” is available here. Dr. Winnie Yip’s interview begins at the 21:40 mark.