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UI team advises Chinese counterparts on health care for elderly
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- An expanded partnership between University of Iowa
researchers and their counterparts at Fudan University in Shanghai, China,
may assist the Chinese in improving the country's health care system as
its population ages at a rapid rate.
Five UI representatives visited Fudan University in late May to further
a developing partnership with their Chinese colleagues focused on improving
health care delivery and other social services while respecting Chinese
cultural values. Among specific proposals signed in China were an agreement
to exchange more faculty, staff and students, and the possible creation
of a training program at the UI for future managers of non-governmental
health and social service organizations.
The faculty who traveled to China were Michael McNulty, associate provost
for international programs; Jae-On Kim, professor and director of the UI
Center for Asian and Pacific Studies; Dr. Gerald Jogerst, assistant professor
of family medicine; Kathleen Buckwalter, professor in the UI College of
Nursing and director of the UI Center on Aging; and Thomas Walz, professor
of social work.
The Chinese government is looking for ways to reform its wide-ranging
system of socialized health care as its large population ages. Currently,
however, non-governmental social programs are scarce or are just getting
started, Buckwalter says. The need for fundamental change was evident when
she visited a Chinese nursing school where students practiced their skills
on plastic dummies and used clean but outdated equipment and laboratories.
An effective system to deliver more community-based health care might
be one in which caregivers are trained in elements of nursing, family medicine
and social work, she adds.
The expansion of China's aging population is one unanticipated effect
of the country's strict "one family, one child" policy, says
Kim. In one area of Shanghai called Pudong, the Chinese government estimates
that 17 percent of the 1.5 million residents are more than 60 years old.
There are about 14 million people in Shanghai altogether.
The one-child policy also has contributed to the erosion of the traditional
Chinese mechanism for taking care of the elderly - the family. Elderly
people used to move in with male children and their families, Kim says.
Now many childless people or families without male children rely on special
government programs created for them. The Chinese health care system has
its good points, Kim says, such as widespread access, but the government
is discovering that maintaining vast social and health programs is unfeasible.
"The government realizes it cannot handle all (social) security
issues and all the health issues alone," Kim says. "They need
to start looking to voluntary organizations for support."
A major step forward in the partnership may come at the UI in late August,
when a delegation from Fudan University and the Pudong area is expected
to spend about three weeks here. Among many professional activities, they
will attend a conference sponsored by the UI College of Nursing, "Vitality
throughout the Adult Lifecycle: Interventions to Promote Health."
The conference focuses on current issues in health promotion and disease
prevention in older populations and has attracted expert speakers from
the U.S., Canada and Denmark.
"We hope the conference will provide them the opportunity to visit
our university, view different types of facilities and participate in interdisciplinary
activities," Buckwalter says. "Maybe they will observe some approaches
to elder care that would be useful in China."