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Fund to Save Miners from Lung Disease

China is raising funds to finance the treatment of black lung, a disease that claims at least 5,000 lives a year.

The country's black lung therapy foundation has launched a public welfare project for coal miners nationwide. The miners, who are most vulnerable to the disease, will be able to receive timely treatment and prolong their lives, according to sources with the foundation at its first council after it was established in October, 2003.

Black lung, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by coal dust inhaled in underground mines and is the severest occupational disease among miners. Its patients suffer from acute pains in the chest, a bad cough and often come down with colds. The worst cases normally die of respiratory failure.

Experts say lavage treatment has proven safe and effective in removing dust from the patients' lungs and restoring lung function. However, at least 200,000 black lung disease sufferers in China cannot afford such treatment, according to statistics provided by the foundation.

The foundation has started to raise funds at home and abroad, hoping to offer treatment for free to patients from poverty-stricken areas at a sanitarium for mine workers in Beidaihe, a seaside summer resort in the northern Hebei Province.

Six mining conglomerates based in Shanxi, Henan and Anhui provinces have promised to donate 5 million yuan each to the foundation.

Incomplete statistics provided by the Ministry of Health indicate that by the end of 2002, the most recent year that data is available, the number of black lung patients in China had topped 580,000; 46 percent of the cases were from the coal mining industry. The ministry estimates the figure is increasing by at least 10,000 every year, causing a direct economic loss of 8 billion yuan (US$960 million).

The Beidaihe sanitarium, sponsored by the State Administration of Coal-Mine Safety, has cured more than 2,200 pneumoconiosis sufferers in China and nearly 100 patients from Russia and Vietnam.

On the other hand, China has drafted a series of laws and regulations on workplace safety, better environment and regular health checkups to protect workers from various occupational diseases.

(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2004)

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