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China faces huge task in Hepatitis B fight
  25 Jul 2006
BEIJING, July 25 (Reuters) - China still faces an uphill struggle in vaccinating against Hepatitis B despite achieving considerable success over the last few years due to poverty and lack of funds, health officials said on Tuesday.
In China -- where 10 percent of the population, or 120 million people, suffer from chronic Hepatitis B -- a million children a year, mainly in the impoverished west of the country, are not vaccinated on time, they said.
But a push supported by the GAVI Alliance, which is funded by European countries, the United States and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has meant that China's immunisation rate for newborns has risen to 90 percent from 60 percent in 1999.
"There are still a lot of problems in immunisation work. For example, the funding from the government for immunisation is far from enough for the demand, and the conditions in some areas are quite poor," vice health minister Jiang Zuojun told a news conference.
While it is relatively easy to ensure babies born in hospital are within 24 hours given their first shot against a disease which can cause liver failure and cancer, reaching children born at home, as often happens in remote areas, remains a problem.
Health officials added that another challenge was reaching tens of million of migrant workers, who have flocked to the cities from the countryside, hoping to ride the economic boom.
"It's very difficult to manage such a population, and the immunisation level for their newborns is very low," said Yang Weizhong, director of China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's Disease Control and Emergency Response Office.
The government has set a target of bringing the infection rate in the general population down to seven percent by 2010, and fighting Hepatitis B is a key part of China's health strategy for the next five years, Yang added.
Progress made in immunizing against hepatitis B 2006-07-25
BEIJING, July 25 (Xinhua) -- China's health authorities have immunized 11.1 million children in the poorest and most remote regions against hepatitis B since 2002, reducing their risk of developing a deadly liver illnesses, health officials said Tuesday.
The breakthrough is the result of a five-year, 76-million-U.S.-dollar project, which has targeted infants and children in areas with a total population of 470 million.
The government and the GAVI Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, launched the project in 2002 with the goal of reaching 75 percent of newborn babies with a birth dose and 85 percent of children under 12 months with all three doses of the vaccine necessary to prevent infection.
About three quarters of the total 1,301 project counties have realized the 85 percent target and half have reached the birth dose target.
"China's success is a model for other countries still struggling to stop the spread of hepatitis B virus and other vaccine-preventable diseases," said Julian Lob-Levyt, executive secretary of the GAVI Alliance.
However, over a million babies born each year in GAVI project counties failed to receive a timely birth dose. Big challenges remained in reaching babies born at home in the most remote rural areas.
Efforts needed to be made in extending immunization, including increasing coordination between village doctors, health workers, midwives and mothers, as well as regular vaccine deliveries.
"Long-term success depends on assuring that no new financial barriers arise to block immunization in the future," Lob-Levyt said.
The Chinese government and the GAVI Alliance funded the project equally, and provincial governments have contributed more than 10 million U.S. dollars.
But a lack of funding was a big problem in some rural western regions, said Vice Health Minister Jiang Zuojun, who promised the Ministry of Health would continue supporting the project.
The country reported 982,297 cases of the hepatitis B last year.
The ministry would conduct another survey on the disease to update its data, said Yang Weizhong, a leading expert at China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Enditem
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