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China must strive to lower tariffs on cancer drugs to zero: Premier Li

As part of broad plans to open up the economy even more, China is considering doing away with import tariffs on medicines, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the closing press conference of the National People's Congress.

The premiere said March 20 that China was willing to further reduce tariffs on imported goods, which he considered to be currently at a "medium level" compared to the rest of the world.

For some consumer goods — such as therapies which address the population's unmet medical need — China must "extensively lower their tariffs, and for anti-cancer drugs, strive for a zero tariff rate," he said.

The central government has placed great importance on alleviating poverty by focusing on critical illnesses — which include chronic and terminal diseases such as diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, and cancer, Li said.

More than 30 million people live in poverty in China, with serious health problems being a major burden, he said.

"Many poor people are poor because either they have critical illnesses, or they return to poverty because of it," he said. "Therefore, on the basis of consolidating the basic medical insurance, treating the problem of critical illnesses is a major focus."

In 2017, about 17 million people were covered by the critical illnesses insurance provision, Li said.

According to the premier, China has worked a lot to improve the basic medical insurance system in the past few years and will continue to intensify its efforts in 2018 to focus on critical illnesses.

"We will increase financing of the basic medical insurance and allocate half of the funds for critical illnesses making it possible for at least 20 million people to be covered by this insurance provision," he said.