Environmental degradation and communicable disease, perhaps surprisingly, rank among China's top risks. China's successful economic reforms have, in great part, been built on environmental destruction and growing social inequalities. These inequalities have resulted in a failing rural health care system and have placed China at 187 out of 191 countries in a recent World Health Organization survey of health care inequality.
With the threat of Avian Influenza looming, and chronic disease on the rise, the already fragile health care system leaves the nation particularly vulnerable to future outbreaks and a more generalized HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to United Nations estimates, 650,000 people are infected with HIV, and they predict 10 million Chinese will be infected by 2010.
China's litany of environmental woes is long and health impacts are growing. Chinese cities are some of the most polluted in the world and half of China's rivers are so contaminated that they should not be used for industry, agriculture, or drinking. Every year, air pollution in China causes up to 400,000 premature deaths and 75,155,000 asthma attacks. Anecdotal evidence indicates that cancer, tumor, and miscarriage rates in many of the more polluted river basins are on the rise.
The three speakers at this meeting highlighted how the U.S. government and other organizations are collaborating with Chinese counterparts to address some these sobering environmental and health challenges.