In October 2016, the Government of China announced its Healthy China 2030 plan, an agenda for health and development based on health priorities, innovations, scientific development and principles of equity. The transformative “Health for All and All for Health” 2030 agenda also indicates China’s political commitment towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Strong evidence backed by the WHO recognizes that health systems centered around community health services staffed by well-trained health workers close to where people live is the most effective and efficient way to provide good quality healthcare to the whole population.
With support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) began collaborating with International Health Exchange and Cooperation Centre (IHECC) on capacity building initiatives focusing on community-based primary healthcare services and mental health support. IHECC, under the direct leadership of National Health Commission, is committed to social equity and expanding its partnerships for the realization of Healthy China 2030 and the SDGs.
Frontline Health Workers Capacity Building for Healthy China 2030
Adhering to the principles of equity and fairness, rural and primary health is prioritized in the Healthy China 2030 plan. The plan aims to reduce the urban-rural, regional and sub-group health inequalities by ensuring that public health services are extended beyond prosperous urban areas and achieve the goals of universal health coverage and social equity.
With rural China facing an acute shortage of health workers, the Center and IHECC embarked on a 10-year project in 2020 to build up the capacity of the frontline health workforce and contribute to Healthy China 2030 goals, especially in improving health literacy and life expectancy. The project aims to strengthen health systems and reduce the health workforce coverage gap by providing frontline health worker training to 100,000 community health workers in areas including treatment and control of common diseases, prevention and control of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and health promotion for the elderly.
Wu Jingbing joined this Healthy China 2030 capacity-building project in August 2021. As Program Leader, National Health Commission Capacity Building and Continuing Education Center, Wu is responsible for designing and developing skills training courses for primary medical and nursing personnel.
“Despite their vital learning needs, primary healthcare workers are often busy during the week, making it difficult for them to balance work and learning,” says Wu, who designed courses that improved the abilities and provided practical support to primary healthcare workers in ways that were manageable with their workload. “It is an honor to be a part of the Healthy China program and I agree that primary healthcare should be a major component of the program. By improving the professional quality of individual health workers, we will be able to improve health for all our population.”
Enhancing Community Mental Health Services Through Peer Support
China has over six million people registered with severe mental illness, however, the country faces a serious shortage of community-based mental health services and resources to support patients and their families. Peer support has been recognized as effective by the WHO in ensuring that people with mental health conditions are included in their communities and are able to lead full and meaningful lives. To that end, the Center is working with IHECC to improve community-level mental health rehabilitation services and train more mental health staff and peer supporters.
The China Mental Health Peer Support Program is a five-year program (2020-2025) that aims to establish peer support groups composed of well-rehabilitated patients with severe mental disorders, and provide standardized training to community health workers and peer supporters to strengthen community mental health management in the country.
The program aspires to integrate peer supporters as community health workers into mental health service delivery and formalize their role as a recognized vocation in China. Over the course of five years, the program aims to train 20,000 community-based mental healthcare workers and provide peer support to about 60,000 patients with severe mental illness and their caregivers across more than 95% of the provinces in China.
Shen Tao, a senior manager of Janssen China’s Government Affairs and Market Access team, has been helping with the implementation of the program, during which he witnessed the improvement of community mental health services first-hand.
“I'm not sure if anyone has heard this story, but if you want to pry open a dinosaur's skull, if the machinery cannot be used, then you can sow seeds on the crevices of the skull; when you water the seeds, the seeds will germinate and when they become seedlings, you can then open the hard skull,” explains Shen. “I feel like the peer project is working as a seed these days. As a national-level project, if the project can demonstrate successful improvement in the capabilities of community healthcare workers, the results of the project would be permanently preserved which goes beyond the time frame of the project itself. Let's sow the seeds for impact to take root.”
According to the WHO, the development of Healthy China 2030 has the potential to reap huge dividends not only for its domestic population, but also for the rest of the world: “Building on these achievements and its domestic successes, China has a key opportunity to ensure that the huge progress it makes in developing a Healthy China at home can deliver great benefits across the world when exported elsewhere.”