Background: China has the second highest caseload of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in the world. In 2009, the Chinese government agreed to draw up a plan for MDR-TB prevention and control in the context of a comprehensive health system reform launched in the same year.
Discussion: China is facing high prevalence rates of drug-resistant TB and MDR-TB. MDR-TB disproportionally affects the poor rural population and the highest rates are in less developed regions largely due to interrupted and/or inappropriate TB treatment. Most households with an affected member suffer a heavy financial burden because of a combination of treatment and other related costs. The influential Global Fund programme for MDR-TB control in China provides technical and financial support for MDR-TB diagnosis and treatment. However, this programme has a fixed timeline and cannot provide a long term solution. In 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in cooperation with the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, started to develop innovative approaches to TB/MDR-TB management and case-based payment mechanisms for treatment, alongside increased health insurance benefits for patients, in order to contain medical costs and reduce financial barriers to treatment. Although these efforts appear to be in the right direction, they may not be sufficient unless (a) domestic sources are mobilized to raise funding for TB/MDR-TB prevention and control and (b) appropriate incentives are given to both health facilities and their care providers.
Summary: Along with the on-going Chinese health system reform, sustained government financing and social health protection schemes will be critical to ensure universal access to appropriate TB treatment in order to reduce risk of developing MDR-TB and systematic MDR-TB treatment and management.