While China has recently made leaps in reforming its health system, major gaps still remain. Due to the sheer size of China’s population and economy, the success or failure of its healthcare system has outsized implications for global health and growth. Underlying issues in China’s health system range from a lack of resources, insufficient expertise, and misaligned incentives for providers. However, unlike many developing countries, China has the wherewithal to deploy novel approaches to improve healthcare outcomes. This unique combination of need and means makes China important for the study of health systems and care for underserved populations.
Community Health Workers
Vision Care: Seeing is Learning
Paths of Social-Emotional Development Before 3 Years Old and Child Development After 5 Years Old: Evidence from Rural China
Background: Social-emotional development during the first three years of life is associated with later social-emotional development and cognitive development. In rural China, research has found large shares of children under age three are developmentally delayed, yet little is known about the paths of social-emotional development before age 3 or how developmental paths predict later social-emotional skills and cognitive skills.
Aims: To investigate the paths of child social-emotional development during ages 0–3 and examine how different paths predict social-emotional development and cognitive development at preschool age.
Methods: Three waves of longitudinal panel data from 1245 children in rural Western China was collected. Child social-emotional development was measured by the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional. Child cognitive development was measured by the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and by the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Fourth Edition. Four paths of child social-emotional development were classified: “never” social-emotionally delayed; “persistently” social-emotionally delayed; “improving,” or “deteriorating.”
Results: 331 (27%) were never social-emotionally delayed; 373 children (30%) were persistently social-emotionally delayed; 149 children (12%) experienced improving social-emotional development; and 392 children (31%) experienced deteriorating social-emotional development. Children who were never social-emotionally delayed or who were on an “improving” path had higher social-emotional development at preschool age (p < .01). Children who were persistently social-emotionally delayed (p < .5) and on a deteriorating path (p < .01) had lower social-emotional development at preschool age. Children on the persistently delay path also were shown to have lower levels of cognitive development at preschool age (p < .01).
Conclusions: Different paths of child social-emotional development before age 3 are associated with different social-emotional and cognitive development at preschool age.
Research continues to highlight the central relationship between caregivers’ mental health and their children’s development. This study examined the relation between primary caregivers’ mental health and school-aged children’s outcomes, including student mental health, resilience, and academic performance, in rural China. Using cross-sectional data from economically poor areas in the Gansu province, 2989 students (mean age = 11.51, 53.33% male, 46.67% female) and their primary caregivers (74.2% female) completed the 21-item, self-report Depression Anxiety Stress Scale. Students also completed the 25-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale and a standardized math test. The results indicated a high prevalence of caregiver depression (31%), stress (39%), and anxiety (24%). Characteristics that were significantly correlated with caregiver mental health issues included being a grandparent, having a low socioeconomic status and low education level, and living in a household with at least one migrant worker. Apart from caregiver stress and student resilience, caregiver mental health issues were negatively correlated with all student outcomes, including student mental health, resilience, and academic performance. Although additional empirical research is needed to investigate the associations between caregiver mental health and student outcomes, our results suggest that rural communities could benefit greatly from programs focused on improving the mental health of caregivers and this, in turn, may have a positive impact on student outcomes.
Background: Maternal mental health problems play an important role in infant well-being. Although western countries have extensively studied the associations between maternal mental disorders, hygiene practices and infant health, little is known in developing settings. This study investigates the correlations between postnatal mental health problems, hand washing practices and infant illness in rural western China. Methods: A total of 720 mothers of infants aged 0–6 months from four poor counties in rural western China were included in the survey. Mental health symptoms were assessed using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21). Questions about infant illness and hand washing practices followed evaluative surveys from prior studies. Adjusted ordinary least squares regressions were used to examine correlations between postnatal mental health (depression, anxiety, and stress) symptoms, hand washing practices, and infant illness outcomes. Results: Maternal depression, anxiety and stress symptoms were significantly associated with reduced hand washing overall and less frequent hand washing after cleaning the infant's bottom. Mental health symptoms were also associated with a higher probability of infants showing two or more illness symptoms and visiting a doctor for illness symptoms. Individual hand washing practices were not significantly associated with infant illness; however, a composite measure of hand washing practices was significantly associated with reduced probability of infant illness. Conclusion: Postnatal mental health problems are prevalent in rural China and significantly associated with infant illness. Policy makers and practitioners should investigate possible interventions to improve maternal and infant well-being.
The Prevalence and Correlates of Vision Impairment and Glasses Ownership among Ethnic Minority and Han Schoolchildren in Rural China
Purpose: To determine the prevalence of visual impairment and glasses ownership among Han Chinese and Hui minority junior high school children in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.
Design: Population-based cross-sectional study.
Methods: Vision screening was conducted on 20,376 children (age 12–15 years) in all 124 rural junior high schools in Ningxia. Personal and family characteristics, glasses ownership, and academic performance were assessed through a survey questionnaire and standardized mathematics test, respectively.
Results: The prevalence of visual acuity (VA) ≤6/12 in either eye was significantly higher among Han (54.5%) than Hui (45.2%) children (P<0.001), and was significantly positively associated with age, female sex, Han ethnicity, parental outmigration for work, shorter time spent outside during recess, shorter time spent watching television and higher time spent studying. Among children with VA≤6/12 in both eyes, only 56.8% of Han and 41.5% of Hui children had glasses (P<0.001). Glasses ownership was significantly associated with worse vision, greater family wealth, female sex, higher test scores, age, parental outmigration for work, understanding of myopia and glasses, higher time spent studying and Han ethnicity.
Conclusion: One of the first of its kind, this report on Han and Hui ethnic schoolchildren confirms a high prevalence of visual impairment among both populations, but slightly higher among the Han. Both groups, especially the Hui, have low rates of glasses ownership. Future interventions and policies designed to improve glasses usage should focus on populations with lower incomes and seek to correct erroneous beliefs about the safety of glasses and efficacy of traditional eye exercises.
Consultation Length, Process Quality and Diagnosis Quality of Primary Care in Rural China: A Cross-Sectional Standardized Patient Study
Objective: Consultation length, the time spent between patient and health care provider during a visit, is an essential element in measuring quality of health care patients receive from a primary care facility. However, the linkage between consultation length and process quality and diagnosis quality of primary care is still uncertain. This study aims to examine the role consultation length plays in delivering process quality and diagnosis quality, two central components of overall primary care quality, in rural China.
Methods: We recruited unannounced standardized patients (SPs) to present classic symptoms of angina and tuberculosis in selected healthcare facilities in three provinces of China. The consultation length and primary care quality of SPs were measured and compared with both international and national standards of care. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regressions for process quality (continuous dependent variable) and Logistic regressions for diagnosis quality (binary dependent variable) were performed to investigate the relationship between consultation length and primary care quality.
Results: The average consultation lengths among patients with classic symptoms of angina and those with symptoms of tuberculosis were approximately 4.33 min and 6.28 min, respectively. Providers who spent more time with patients were significantly more likely to complete higher percentage of recommended checklist items of both questions and examinations for angina (β = 1.39, 95%CI 1.01–1.78) and tuberculosis (β = 0.89, 95%CI 0.69–1.08). Further, providers who spent more time with patients were more likely to make correct diagnosis for angina (marginal effect = 0.014, 95%CI 0.002–0.026) and for tuberculosis (marginal effect = 0.013, 95%CI 0.005–0.021).
Conclusions: The average consultation length is extremely short among primary care providers in rural China. The longer consultation leads to both better process and diagnosis quality of primary care.
Practice Implications: We recommend primary care providers to increase the length of their communication with patients. To do so, government should implement healthcare reforms to clarify the requirements of affordable and reliable consultation length in medical care services. Moreover, such an experience can also be extended to other developing countries.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among Elementary Students in Rural China: Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequence
Background: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a widely recognized mental health problem in developed countries but remains under-investigated in developing settings. This study examines the prevalence, correlates, and consequences of ADHD symptoms among elementary school students in rural China.
Methods: Cross-sectional data were collected from 6,719 students across 120 rural primary schools in China on ADHD symptoms, demographic characteristics, and academic performance in reading and math. ADHD symptoms were evaluated using the caregiver-reported ADHD Rating Scale-IV.
Results: The prevalence of ADHD symptoms was 7.5% in our sample. Male students, students in lower grade levels, and students with lower cognitive ability showed a significantly higher prevalence of ADHD symptoms (ORs = 2.56, 2.06, and 1.84, respectively; p<0.05). Left-behind children showed a significantly lower prevalence of ADHD symptoms than did children who were living with their parents (OR = 0.74, p < 0.05). Adjusted regressions show that students with ADHD symptoms scored 0.12 standardized deviations lower in reading (p < 0.05) and 0.19 standardized deviations lower in math (p < 0.01).
Limitations: The ADHD Rating Scale-IV is a screening scale rather than a diagnostic test. Caregiver self-report measures also may underestimate ADHD symptoms for our sample.
Conclusions: ADHD is a common disorder among rural students in China and appears to be contributing to poor academic outcomes. The higher prevalence of ADHD among students with low cognitive ability also suggests that many rural children in China face multifactorial learning challenges. Taken together, the findings indicate a need for educators and policymakers in rural China to develop programs to reduce risk and support students with ADHD symptoms.
Comparing the Quality of Primary Care between Public and Private Providers in Urban China: A Standardized Patient Study
Previous studies have been limited by not directly comparing the quality of public and private CHCs using a standardized patient method (SP). This study aims to evaluate and compare the quality of the primary care provided by public and private CHCs using a standardized patient method in urban China. We recruited 12 standardized patients from the local community presenting fixed cases (unstable angina and asthma), including 492 interactions between physicians and standardized patients across 63 CHCs in Xi’an, China. We measured the quality of primary care on seven criteria: (1) adherence to checklists, (2) correct diagnosis, (3) correct treatment, (4) number of unnecessary exams and drugs, (5) diagnosis time, (6) expense of visit, (7) patient-centered communication. Significant quality differences were observed between public CHCs and private CHCs. Private CHC physicians performed 4.73 percentage points lower of recommended questions and exams in the checklist. Compared with private CHCs, public CHC providers were more likely to give a higher proportion of correct diagnosis and correct treatment. Private CHCs provided 1.42 fewer items of unnecessary exams and provided 0.32 more items of unnecessary drugs. Private CHC physicians received a 9.31 lower score in patient-centered communication. There is significant quality inequality in different primary care models. Public CHC physicians might provide a higher quality of service. Creating a comprehensive, flexible, and integrated health care system should be considered an effective approach towards optimizing the management of CHC models.
This study examines the effects of local and nationwide COVID‐19 disease control measures on the health and economy of China's rural population. We conducted phone surveys with 726 randomly selected village informants across seven rural Chinese provinces in February 2020. Four villages (0.55%) reported infections, and none reported deaths. Disease control measures had been universally implemented in all sample villages. About 74% of informants reported that villagers with wage‐earning jobs outside the village had stopped working due to workplace closures. A higher percentage of rural individuals could not work due to transportation, housing, and other constraints. Local governments had taken measures to reduce the impact of COVID‐19. Although schools in all surveyed villages were closed, 71% of village informants reported that students were attending classes online. Overall, measures to control COVID‐19 appear to have been successful in limiting disease transmission in rural communities outside the main epidemic area. Rural Chinese citizens, however, have experienced significant economic consequences from the disease control measures.
We highlight a growing concern in the economics profession that young scholars face incentives that are misaligned with conducting research that furthers knowledge and addresses pressing policy problems. The premium given to publication in top journals leads to an emphasis on exhaustive treatment of narrow questions. Detailed, robustly identified studies of novel questions are of undeniable value; however, the opportunity cost of producing such studies is large in terms of research quantity and policy relevance. For economists who aim to achieve what we view as the ultimate goals of academic research (enhancing understanding of the world, solving social problems, and building foundational knowledge to enable future breakthroughs), we offer some insights from publication philosophy in the field of public health. We discuss how public health has developed norms around publishing that are more successful in meeting these ultimate goals. We then offer thoughts on potential lessons for young economists in China and the economics discipline.
Stanford scholars are setting and expanding research agendas to analyze China’s economic development and its impact on the world. The newly launched Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions — co-directed by SIEPR senior fellows Hongbin Li and Scott Rozelle — is supporting their work. In this SIEPR Policy Brief, Li and Rozelle outline the research underway by the new center's affiliates.
Improving Learning by Improving Vision: Evidence from Two Randomized Controlled Trials of Providing Vision Care in China
This paper examines the external validity of health intervention by comparing the impacts of providing free eyeglasses on the educational performance of nearsighted children in two settings: rural public schools in Western China and urban private migrant schools in Eastern China. The intervention significantly improves educational outcomes by 0.14 standard deviations in math in rural public schools but not in private migrant schools. The difference in measured impacts is due in part to lower quality schooling in migrant schools in Eastern China. Our findings show that only when school is providing a quality education, health interventions might increase student learnings.
Background: Maternal health during pregnancy is a key input in fetal health and child development. This study
aims to systematically describe the health behaviors of pregnant women in rural China and identify which
subgroups of women are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors during pregnancy.
Purpose: This study aims to bridge the gaps in the existing literature by studying the links between children's development and the subjective well-being of the caregivers using first-hand data collected in rural China. Design/methodology/approach: Although the broad array of literature has examined the effects of child development on the subjective well-being of caregivers, the relationship between early childhood development and caregiver subjective well-being has not been well-studied using sample families with potential developmental delay in rural China. Also, existing research has relied on maternal reports to evaluate the developmental status of children. The study used data collected from 32 townships in seven nationally designated poverty counties in the Qinling mountainous area in 2016. The authors measure child development using the social-emotional module of the Ages & Stages Questionnaire and Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development–Third Edition. Findings: The authors find that child development indicators are correlated with caregiver subjective well-being. In particular, social-emotional skills are positively associated with life evaluations and positive emotion. However, we do not find any significant correlation between child development and negative emotion or depression, anxiety and stress scores. Originality/value: The value of this study is to report the indicators of child development in rural China and examines the correlation between child development and caregivers' subjective well-being.
Off the Epicenter: COVID-19 Quarantine Controls and Employment, Education, and Health Impacts in Rural Communities
In late January 2020, China’s government initiated its first aggressive measures to combat COVID-19 by forbidding individuals from leaving their homes, radically limiting public transportation, cancelling or postponing large public events, and closing schools across the country. The rollout of these measures coincided with China’s Lunar New Year holiday, during which more than 280 million people had returned from their places of work to their home villages in rural areas. The disease control policies remained in place until late February and early March, when they were gradually loosened to
Conditional Cash Transfers, Uptake of Maternal and Child Health Services, and Health Outcomes in Western Rural China
Using Standardised Patients to Assess the Quality of Medical Records: An Application and Evidence from Rural China
Heterogeneous Impacts of Basic Social Health Insurance on Medical Expenditure: Evidence from China's New Cooperative Medical Scheme
This paper examines the effects of China’s New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) on medical expenditure. Utilizing the quasi-random rollout of the NCMS for a difference-in-difference analysis, we find that the NCMS increased medical expenditure by 12.3%. Most significantly, the good-health group witnessed a 22.1% rise in medical expenditure, and the high-income group saw a rise of 20.6%. The effects, however, were not significant among the poor-health or low-income groups. The findings are suggestive of the need for more help for the very poor and less healthy.
Anemia is a serious nutritional deficiency among infants and toddlers in rural China. However, it is unclear how the anemia status changes among China’s rural children as they age. This study investigates the prevalence of anemia as children grow from infancy to preschool-age, as well as the dynamic anemia status of children over time. We conducted longitudinal surveys of 1170 children in the Qinba Mountain Area of China in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The results show that 51% of children were anemic in infancy (6–12 months), 24% in toddlerhood (22–30 months) and 19% at preschool-age (49–65 months). An even larger share of children (67%) suered from anemia at some point over the course of study. The data also show that although only 4% of children were persistently anemic from infancy to preschool-age, 8% of children saw their anemia status deteriorate. We further found that children may be at greater risk for developing anemia, or for having persistent anemia, during the period between toddlerhood and preschool-age. Combined with the finding that children with improving anemia status showed higher cognition than persistently anemic children, there is an urgent need for eective nutritional interventions to combat anemia as children grow, especially between toddlerhood and preschool age.
Old is Not Always Better: Evidence from Five Randomized Experiments in Rural Primary Schools in China
In recent years, researchers have begun to focus attention on trying to identify systematic factors that cause interventions to have different impacts in different contexts. In this paper, we seek to understand whether the age of principals at schools implementing nutrition-based interventions has an impact on program outcomes. To explore the relative effectiveness of younger and older school principals, we use data from five large-scale, nutrition-related randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving 12,595 primary school students in 336 schools in rural China. Our results, using two age cut-offs for distinguishing young principals from old ones, indicate that improvements in the health and nutrition outcomes of students were significantly higher in schools with younger principals than in schools run by older principals (when using a cutoff of 40 years old). When using a cut-off of 45 years old, the point estimates of the impacts similarly suggest that young principals are more effective, although the results are not significantly significant. The results are similar when we look at the impact of disaggregated interventions in schools managed by young and old principals. The findings are clear that the interventions implemented by older principals are not more effective than those implemented by younger principals.