Two million Chinese people could be saved from tuberculosis and more will be free of infection in the next seven years thanks to a TB control program jointly launched by China, Britain and the World Bank.
The program, mainly financed by a US$104 million loan from the World Bank, will offer free diagnosis and treatment of TB in 16 of China's 31 provinces, home to 680 million people.
Through its Department for International Development, the British government will also provide a grant of US$37 million to China to help lower the interest rate on the Bank's 20-year loan.
Chinese governments at central and local levels will be responsible for providing necessary funds, implementing programs, and the work of personnel training and health education among the public.
It is an important part of global efforts of TB control, Katherine Sierra, Vice-President of the World Bank, said at a ceremony to launch the program in Beijing on Sunday, the annual World TB Day.
Current situation of TB in China
With five million tuberculosis sufferers, China ranked second only to India worldwide in terms of serious TB epidemics.
Among the infected, two million have active tuberculosis, and run a high risk of spreading the TB bacillus to healthy people through daily contact. At least 120,000 Chinese die from tuberculosis every year.
The World Bank has helped China since 1991 to expand effective TB control services in 13 Chinese provinces. More than 1.6 million patients had been diagnosed and treated by the end of 2000.
The project was cited by the World Health Organization as one of the most successful TB control interventions in the world, with patient cure rates surpassing 90 percent.
Research has also shown that the application of the WHO-recommended TB control approach, DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course), in China has been associated with at least a 46 percent reduction in the expected deaths in the counties covered, said a World Bank document.
China's fight against TB
"However, many of the gains of these efforts would have been lost if the government did not provide adequate resources to continue and expand the program after Bank financing concludes in mid-2002," it said.
Nearly 80 percent of the country's TB patients live in rural areas, where poor living conditions, underlying health and nutritional status, insufficient money to pay for health care, and lack of knowledge about TB could make the situation worse, Chinese health officials fear.
Without government funding, user charges have prevented patients from being diagnosed early and getting treatment, thereby increasing risks of transmission and death, and the development of drug resistance, they warned.
China itself has begun a national plan to cover 95 percent of its counties with the DOTS strategy, with the aim to treat four million TB patients by 2010.
International cooperation and external support would also be very important to China's fight against TB, China's Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu said at an early ceremony to launch a TB control program between China and Japan.
The Japanese government donated US$2 million worth of anti-TB drugs and microscopes for bacillus detection to China on March 11, which would be delivered to poor rural areas in 11 Chinese provinces.
(People’s Daily March 25, 2002)