Seeking better healthcare, Russians look to China
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Every seat in the waiting room of the Northeast Asia hospital in the small Chinese city of Hunchun is taken by Russian patients. They come from Vladivostok, Lake Baikal, and dozens of cities throughout Russia’s far east.
“I really like it here, particularly the care I’ve received,” says 75-year-old Lev Ruvinchik, who spent 23 hours on a train and four more on a bus to come here to seek care for his arthritic knees. “I couldn’t walk before, and now I can. Everything is efficient here.”
Rubinchik came here with a group of Russians from the remote region of Komsolmosk. His tour guide, Natalya, says she takes groups of medical tourists here two or three times a month. “They treat their arms, legs, you name it. Older women come because plastic surgery here in China is so affordable.”
Hunchun, which lies on a sliver of land along both the Russian and North Korean borders, has just 200,000 people. Other cities of this size in China typically have two or three hospitals, but Hunchun has 49 hospitals, most of them catering to Russians.
“Russians are supposed to have universal medical care, but the system is bureaucratic and patients often have to wait a long time,” explains Kou Hanqian, a local government official in charge of foreign tourism. “Specialized care is also really expensive there. Here, the prices are low, the service is good, and it’s very convenient.”
Pretty soon, it may be even more convenient. Last month, a bullet train to Hunchun opened, connecting the city to China’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail network. China plans to extend the line to Vladivostok in Russia, and if it does, more patients – and more money – will follow.
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