China and Vietnam developed low cost rural health services between the 1950s and the mid-1970s. These services contributed to substantial improvements in health. Both countries have been liberalising their economies for a number of years. Partly as a result of these changes health facilities have become increasingly dependent on user charges, and they have gained considerable independence from political or bureaucratic control. There has also been a growth in private provision. This has given people a wider choice of health services, but costs have risen and there are greater differences in access to medical care. The Chinese and Vietnamese governments face fundamental questions about the future development of the health sector.