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Easing the burden of migration in China

We are currently experiencing the largest population shift in human history. Across the globe, from Asia to South America, from the Indian subcontinent to Africa and the Middle East, millions of people every year are moving from rural to urban areas.

This seismic shift in the world’s population has far-reaching consequences, and nowhere are these being felt more keenly than in China. For the first time, more than half of China’s 1.3 billion people now live in urban areas, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. In 2011 alone, 21 million people are known to have moved to a city.

As will always happen when such an exponential influx occurs, the infrastructure in China’s cities is beginning to creak under the weight, causing poverty and overcrowding. And where there is poverty and overcrowding, there often follows poor sanitation and disease.

The majority of migrants have relatively low levels of education and literacy. This means many are forced to take dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs, which established residents are not willing to take. They also face significant barriers in getting access to education, housing and healthcare – particularly maternal/baby care and disease prevention. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by GSK in China.

The GSK New Citizen Health Care Project

Our approach as a company to helping communities is about funding innovative programmes that improve health through community engagement and behavioural change. We donate medicines and expertise, and reinvest some of our profits to improve healthcare infrastructure. This approach can be seen in action in the suburbs of Shanghai, at our New Citizen Health Care Project.

Endorsed by the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association (CPMA), and run by Xintu, an independent non-government organisation, the project is one of our principal charity initiatives in China. It provides health-related information, education and services for migrants – particularly migrant farmers. Its ultimate aim is to help these people integrate into city life.

The project is based in a 100-square metre urban centre in Sanlin town, approximately 20 kilometres from central Shanghai. In partnership with the Sanlin Town and Pudong District Government, the centre provides training, workshops, talks, family activities, health services and education materials.  Since 2009, we have provided 100,000 people with sexual health education, 2,500 women with free gynaecological screening, and 1000 children with free measles vaccination.

The centre stands as a beacon in an area of poverty and provides a safe, welcoming space for people to gather, learn and socialise.

What happens next?

Just as history shows us that overcrowding, poverty and disease are an unfortunate by-product of urbanisation on a grand scale, it also shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Traditionally, population shifts such as we are seeing now in China have eventually led to economic growth at both a local and national level, greater investment, technological advancement and a rise in employment, healthcare and living standards. Chinese society is not on a downward spiral, it is merely in transition. It will not be a fast process, but the situation for new migrants will improve naturally.

In the meantime, the New Citizen Health Care Project is on hand to help knock down the barriers that make integration into urban life a struggle.


Updated on 06 December 2012 - The New Citizen Health Care Project has won the award for best urban healthcare project at the FT/Citi Ingenuity Awards.

Key facts...

  • keyFactsImage 21m

    ...people in China are known to have moved to a city in 2011

  • keyFactsImage 100,000

    Number of people who have received sexual education at the Health Care Project