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China's Barefoot Doctors

Rural residents trained to provide primary care services to their communities.

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Written by DeletedUser

As a way to overcome the urban bias in social service provision, a few decades ago China launched the Barefoot Doctor program. Rural residents received training in basic medical care to then go on to provide primary care services to their communities (deliveries, immunizations, infection control, etc.). Barefoot Doctors would often divide their time between serving as a care provider and continuing the work they did before becoming doctors (usually farming). Barefoot Doctors were an important node in the referral pathway connecting the more seriously ill patients to more sophisticated care in towns and cities. Although the program no longer exists, in its heyday Barefoot Doctors covered 90% of the country's rural cooperatives. As a state-run program, it's not exactly a social business. Nevertheless, this example demonstrates that the health and well-being of rural populations can be improved without having to rely on expensive infrastructure (hospitals), costly tools (medical equipment), or individuals with several years of specialized training (doctors).   

image source: google image search (radically creative, I know)


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Photo of Ashley Jablow

Great Inspiration Simon! Made me think about this one from a fellow OpenIDEATOR:

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Thanks for directing my attention to E-Swasthya - it's like an updated version of the Barefoot Doctors. The hub and spoke model has a lot of potential as a way to organize a health related social business for Caldas.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Simon! I find interesting to build upon volunteers and train them... not a social business per se (as you noted) but a clear way to think of health issues... and if there is no support from the government, one could imagine starting this as a social business - - I suppose.