Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Human resource development and capacity-building during China’s rapid scale-up of methadone maintenance treatment services

Jianhua Li, Changhe Wang, Jennifer M McGoogan, Keming Rou, Marc Bulterys & Zunyou Wu


China’s National Methadone Maintenance Treatment Programme (MMT) has expanded from eight clinics serving approximately 1000 clients to 738 clinics that have served more than 340 000 clients cumulatively in only 8 years. This has created an enormous demand for trained providers.


Human resource development and capacity building efforts have been conducted in China’s National MMT Programme to create a supply of providers trained in administering MMT for opioid dependence.

Local setting

From 2004 to 2007, China’s National MMT Programme faced several problems: inappropriately low methadone doses, poor compliance, high concurrent drug use and high drop-out rates among clients, and little experience, little training and high turnover rates among providers.

Relevant changes

Training programmes for individual providers and their trainers were redeveloped and expanded in 2008. Although programme performance metrics show an increase in patients’ annual mean duration in treatment (93 days in 2004 versus 238 days in 2011), the increase in their mean daily methadone dose (from 47.2 mg in 2004 to 58.6 mg in 2011) is modest.

Lessons learnt

Some of the problems that can arise during the development, launch and scale-up of a major national public health effort, such as China’s National MMT Programme, cannot be foreseen. Key to the programme’s success so far have been the strong commitment on the part of China’s government and the optimism and pragmatism of programme managers. Human resources development and capacity-building during scale-up have contributed to improved service quality in MMT treatment clinics and are critical to long-term success.