The Year of the Monkey has long been considered a lucky time for child bearing in the Chinese zodiac tradition. Now, that good fortune not only extends to astrology but also to official policy, thanks to the recent scrapping of China’s one child policy.
Several news outlets report that those two factors are leading to a major baby boom in 2016, with expected newborns increasing by 20 percent in Beijing alone, from last year’s 250,000 to 300,000. The maternity beds of several Beijing hospitals are already booked until April, a 30 percent increase over 2015. Meanwhile Merck, a German fertility drug, has reported a marked sales increase in the PRC. The boosted enthusiasm is also compounded by 2015 being the Year of the Sheep, deemed unlucky in the Chinese zodiac.
But some experts are more concerned than enthused by this trend. The number of already booked maternity beds will further burden an already strained medical system, which has a shortfall of 200,000 pediatricians according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission. Poor pay, long hours and abysmal career prospects prompted approximately 50 percent of pediatricians to quit between 2005 and 2011, according to the commission’s stats, which also show that 5,000 between 2009 and 2014. This leaves one pediatrician, on average, to serve 2,300 children, while such doctors in developed countries contend with half the amount of patients.
Experts say the issue stems from pediatrics being scrapped as an undergraduate major in 1998 by the Ministry of Education, which was then concerned that universities were overextending themselves by offering too many fields of study. Ninety thousand Chinese doctors received medical licences in 2014, but only a few chose to serve in children’s wards. One doctor was quoted in the Chinese media as saying: “Every year, about 1,800 pediatricians are trained, which is far less than what is needed."
That shortage has left many parents resorting to black-market dealers, frequently paying RMB 600 (USD 131) for an appointment that legally costs RMB 5, because the wait times were too long for the urgent care their children needed. Such exploitation and strain is sure to increase in the Year of the Monkey, making it a far less lucky occasion than the throngs of couples rushing to have children expect, unless of course pediatricians finally receive the resources that they have lacked for so long.