Chinese medical chiefs have vowed to inoculate all babies against the debilitating disease hepatitis B after a 14-month vaccination scheme was hailed as a great success.
Nearly all provinces and regions of the country are providing jabs to youngsters, said Liang Xiaofeng, an expert from Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The inoculations began early last year as part of the nationwide program to improve the health of children.
The central government will invest 36 million yuan (US$4.3 million) annually over the next three years to enable central and western China to inoculate children against the virus.
China will also receive US$315 million from the International Vaccine Immunization Federation to support less-developed areas in the campaign during the same period.
Provinces in other parts of China are being asked to shoulder the financial burden of the vaccinations.
Statistics show that about 10 percent of China's 1.3 billion population are infected by the virus. About 25 percent of those infected are likely to develop chronic hepatitis.
According to the Ministry of Health, China began inoculating children against six major epidemic diseases including polio, measles, diphtheria and pertussis in 1978.
A total of 85 percent of the country's children are protected against the six diseases after receiving the jabs.
China began using the hepatitis B vaccine for babies 10 years ago. But the cost of the vaccine has always fallen on families and many have opted not to receive it, especially in rural and remote areas.
In some areas, the inoculation rate of the vaccine among children is lower than 10 percent. China currently has 500,000 new hepatitis B patients each year with 300,000 deaths from liver failure.
At present, there is still no effective way to cure hepatitis B in the world.
Problems remain in the vaccination program with many local governments struggling to pay the costs of providing jabs to infants.
And unsterile injections, especially during blood transfusions, have proved the main cause of the spread of the virus.
Providing vaccines to the children of migrant workers in cities is also proving a major headache for health chiefs.
And in addition to hepatitis B, several other kinds of hepatitis are also threatening people's health.
About 40 million people in China -- around 3.2 percent of the total population -- have hepatitis C. Many contracted the disease through infected blood.
(China Daily February 17, 2002)