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Health and Medical Services

Due to Korea's success in economic development, the overall health of Koreans has improved significantly over the past three decades. In 1960, the life expectancy at birth was 51 years for males and 54 for females. These figures have increased to 72.1 for males and 79.5 for females in 2000. The infant mortality rate has likewise declined sharply, along with maternal mortality as well.

These improvements are all directly related to improvement in diet as well as in available health and medical services. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is responsible for all aspects of health services, including the strategic planning for the maintenance and promotion of national health and social welfare. The annual budget of MOHW has been growing in recent years. In 2003, it amounted to 8,351 trillion won (approximately US$6.7 billion).

Health care in the form of medical insurance and medical assistance was first introduced in 1977. However, the coverage rate was only 29.5 percent up until 1980. As of Dec. 2003, 97.3 percent of the population had access to health insurance, with the remaining 2.7 percent being able to receive direct medical assistance.

The supply of hospitals and medical personnel has continuously increased. The total number of hospitals and clinics in the nation (including Oriental medicine hospitals and clinics) was 11,188 in 1975, which increased to 45,772 in 2003. Meanwhile, the number of licensed doctors, that totaled 16,800 in 1975, increased to 81,328 in 2003.

National statistics for 2000 showed that there was one physician for every 556 persons, one dentist for every 2,609 and one pharmacist for every 929.

Social Security

The National Pension System, when first introduced in 1988, covered employees at workplaces with 10 or more workers. It was revised to cover workers in workplaces with five or more employees in 1992 and was expanded to cover those engaged in agriculture and the self-employed in rural areas in 1995. Finally, it came to cover the entire nation in 1999.
Obstetricians providing quality medical care.
Obstetricians providing quality medical care.

While the primary goal of the above systems is to provide minimum guarantees to the economically active population in the case of economic difficulties, there are also welfare programs directed to those not economically active. These public subsidy programs consist mainly of the following two parts: subsidies for living expenses and medical assistance.

Due to increased living standards and the improvement in health and medical services, the average age of Koreans has increased rapidly, which means that the number of elderly has increased significantly over the years. In 1960, the population aged 65 and over comprised 2.9 percent of Korea’s total population. By the end of 2004, this ratio had increased to 9.1 percent, and is expected to rise to 14.4 percent by 2019.

Policies that have been implemented to improve the welfare of the elderly include the following: the provision of direct subsidies to the elderly living under the subsistence level, the expanding of employment opportunities for older people by developing suitable jobs and opening job placement centers, the strengthening of health care systems for the aged, and the opening of various types of public facilities for the elderly.

With the strengthening of social security measures since the late 1980s, awareness of the needs of the handicapped has been increasing. In February 2003, the Ministry of Health and Welfare developed a "The Second Five-Year Welfare Development Plan for the Handicapped 2000-2005," which is to be implemented in cooperation with other executive branches of the government, including the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development and the Ministry of Labor etc.
opportunities by providing subsidies to employers for installing necessary facilities.
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