SPOTLIGHT ON COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT HISTORY – Barefoot Doctors

As we celebrate our 65th anniversary year, we are going to put the spotlight on some of the key players who shaped our profession in those early days.

The Barefoot doctors (Chinese赤脚医生pinyinchìjiǎo yīshēng) movement was instigated by Mao Zedong and the Communist government in China in the mid 1960s.  Mao had been critical of an urban and expensive Western based bias in the medical system of the time, and called for a system with greater focus on the well being of the rural population. In 1968, the barefoot doctors programme became integrated into national policy. These programmes were called “rural cooperative medical systems” and strove to include community participation with the rural provision of health services.

China’s barefoot doctors were a major inspiration to the global primary health care movement post 1978 when the idea began to be promoted by the World Health Organisation.  These health workers lived in the community they served, focused on prevention rather than cures while combining western and traditional medicines to educate people and provide basic treatment.  They were encouraged to integrate both Western and Chinese medicine. Thousands of peasants — men and women who were mostly in their 20s and already had some general education — were selected for an intensive three- to six-month course in medical training. They were instructed in anatomy, bacteriology, diagnosing disease, acupuncture, prescribing traditional and Western medicines, birth control and maternal and infant care.

 

 

We are keen to hear from members about people who were influential in your countries in helping to shape the community development profession.

 

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