Annually the last Sunday in January is World Leprosy Day. This year it fell on January 28. This is also China's Leprosy Day.
China plans to invest 220 million yuan (US$28 million) to build new leprosy hospitals and renovate old facilities, said Vice Minister of Health Wang Longde on Sunday.
Wang said the ministry would strengthen cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, the China Disabled Persons' Federation and Ministry of Civil Affairs in improving the living conditions and medical treatment available to leprosy patients.
Wang and other officials visited sufferers in Yunnan Province on World Leprosy Day.
The government has been providing free treatment for leprosy sufferers. There are 6,300 patients in the country and the number is increasing by 1,600 a year. Most cases are found in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan and Tibet. Children account for 2.1 percent of new cases.
Wang praised the efforts and contribution made by the Yunan provincial government in the prevention and treatment of the illness. He said there was discrimination against those suffering from the disease. China's Leprosy Day this year is themed on eradicating discrimination and building a harmonious society.
The illness, one of the world's oldest recorded diseases was first mentioned in writing in 600 BC, causes deformities and nerve damage. It incubates in the body for up to 20 years and is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during contact with sufferers.
However, it can be cured by a sustained, year-long antibiotic treatment.
The Chinese government has asked local authorities to wage an educational campaign about prevention and control of the disease and called for an end to discrimination against patients.
Last July the Ministry of Health published a leprosy control plan. They vowed to eradicate the disease in Anhui and Qinghai by 2008 and in Chongqing, Guangdong and Shaanxi by 2010.
(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2007)