Medical chiefs in Shanghai are warning that 92 percent of children with leukaemia are not getting adequate treatment because of the high cost of therapy and drugs.
An estimated 40,000 children below the age of 14 suffer from the potentially fatal disease each year in the country, according to statistics from the ongoing International Conference for Cure of Childhood Cancer in China which was held in Shanghai.
Treatment for leukaemia costs more than 200,000 yuan (US$24,096), putting it out of reach of parents of children in rural areas where the medical welfare system popular in cities is rarely seen.
"It is estimated that half of children leukaemia sufferers never get treated, and half the remaining number don't complete the treatment," said Tang Jingyan, from Shanghai Children's Medical Centre.
A shortage of technology and skills within certain hospitals also hinders the possibility of effective treatment.
Research has found that cancer in children differs from that in adults. Many types of children cancer are due to possibly inherited abnormalities of genes.
This is in sharp contrast to cancers in adults that are often the result of cell changes due to environmental causes such as chemicals, infectious agents, and physical effects, such as radiation.
Current treatment of cancer in children is much more successful than in adults. In western countries, the overall cure rate can reach 80 percent, with a minimum chance of recurrence.
Some big Chinese hospitals are approaching that level but the majority are falling critically short.
Statistics indicate each provincial region in China has 2-4 children's hospitals and many more cancer institutes, but not all of them can offer services for children with cancer and even fewer can offer proper treatment.
Tang called for the establishment of a children's cancer co-operative group to improve the diagnosis and treatment skills, and raise funds for patients from poor families.
Her suggestions were echoed by many other medical experts attending the conference.
The establishment of CURE (International Consortium for Cure of Childhood Cancer) in China has raised hopes that widespread and effective treatment is a possibility.
This was further backed by its recent co-operation with China Welfare Institute and Soong Ching Ling Foundation, China's leading private welfare organization whose goals include the cure of Chinese children with cancer.
As the organizer of the ongoing conference, CURE in China pointed out that currently the greatest need is to prioritize the spread of the successful treatment that already exists within China.
(China Daily March 18, 2002)