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2019-11-07 04:17:02

SHANGHAI — In a bid to improve stroke treatment in China, German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim signed an agreement Wednesday with the Beijing Health Promotion Association to jointly develop an internet-based stroke hospital union in Handan, a city in the southern Hebei province.

This union will include five county-level hospitals in Handan, with Handan Central Hospital serving as the network’s hub providing specialists’ guidance. The partner hospitals will all use the same online platform, allowing the hub hospital to assign specialists to monitor the personnel needs of lower-tier hospitals around the clock.

With the help of internet-based technologies, the program aims to improve remote consultation and education, and the hub hospital will help county-level hospitals establish stroke centers that can independently administer therapies for reducing or eliminating blood clots.

“Saving stroke patients is essentially a race against time,” Wang Haofei, president of the Beijing Health Promotion Association, told Sixth Tone at the second annual China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where the agreement was signed. “If a patient can be sent to the hospital to receive thrombolytic therapy within 4.5 hours, they can usually see their condition reversed. Stroke-related deaths or disabilities can be effectively prevented.”

Around 3 million new stroke cases are recorded in China each year, as well as 1.7 million stroke-related deaths. Stroke is also a leading cause of death in the United States, killing around 140,000 people each year.

A widely cited 2016 survey of 62 hospitals in 37 Chinese cities indicated that on average, it takes over 15 hours for a stroke patient to be admitted to a hospital. Only 18.8% of stroke patients reached hospitals in a timely manner via ambulance services, according to the survey, and 16.9% of patients were unfamiliar with the symptoms and warning signs of stroke.

China’s rural communities are especially vulnerable to stroke, according to a 2017 study on stroke epidemiology, which found that both the incidence and mortality rates of stroke in rural areas are significantly higher than in cities.

“An integrated system is required to help improve treatment for stroke patients,” Genevieve Faith, head of human pharma business strategy for Boehringer Ingelheim’s China operations, told Sixth Tone. “We are committed to providing more innovative products and exploring better solutions for Chinese patients. But at the moment, raising awareness for families and communities in China, especially in the rural areas, is urgent.”

Wang of the Beijing Health Promotion Association said that, in his experience, Chinese people tend to be less aware of stroke. The new program to be introduced in Handan will train people to identify the warning signs, Wang said, and thus help them reach a hospital more quickly in an emergency.

(Header image: An elderly woman pushes a wheelchair near a river in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Oct. 16, 2014. He Youbao/VCG)