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Hepatitis B Campaign Seen Making Progress
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China's health officials are celebrating reaching one-third of the country's children in a five-year program to protect them against hepatitis B.

More than 11 million children in 1,301 counties of central and western China are now immunized against hepatitis B, Vice-Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun said yesterday.

But that means health officials will have to hurry to reach the remaining two-thirds by the project's scheduled deadline next year.

The US$76 million project, co-funded equally by the Chinese Government and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), started in 2002, the same year the government added hepatitis B to all routine childhood immunizations.

The campaign targets children under age 5 across an area that encompasses 470 million people and includes 6 million newborns annually.

It has reached babies born in hospitals, as well as those born at home, in mountain villages or in the tents of nomadic herders.

"This breakthrough was 20 years in the making," Julian Lob-Levyt, executive secretary of the GAVI Alliance, said as he met Jiang in Beijing.

"This is how long children in the industrialized world have had a vaccine to fight this virus, but until recently, progress in emerging countries and poor remote areas, such as western China, had been painfully slow."

China's success is a model for other countries still struggling to stop the spread of the hepatitis B virus and other vaccine-preventable diseases, he said.

(China Daily July 26, 2006)

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