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Animal-borne Diseases Challenge China's Health System
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With pig-borne disease and bird flu occurring one after another, China's disease control network is facing new challenges after the outbreak of the disease of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"China's disease pattern is undergoing fast changes with the frequent emergence of new infectious diseases transmitted from animals to the humans, which pose big challenges to the country's disease prevention and control work," Chinese Minister of Public Health Gao Qiang said at the on-going session of the 10th National People's Congress.

These diseases are not new to the human beings and nearly 200 of them have been found to be passed from animals to humans. Some of the better-known examples include anthrax, plague and haemorrhaging fever.

In June 2005, a type of pig-borne disease called swine streptococosis occurred in China's southwestern province of Sichuan, infecting more than 200 people and killing 38 others.

In Nov. 2005, two human cases of H5N1 bird flu were confirmed for the first time on the Chinese mainland. So far, the country has reported 15 human cases with 10 deaths.

The emerging animal-related diseases has put China on high alert. The ministries of health and agriculture have jointly set up new mechanism to warn about outbreaks of such diseases, including forming a joint working team and a panel of experts.

In Nov. that year, the State Council, or the central government, enacted regulations and emergency response plans on animal epidemics, requiring government departments at various levels to get ready for the diseases and promising to penalize those who failed in their duties.

In the ensuing month, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, passed the draft of Law on Animal Husbandry, laying down the legal foundation to ensure sound breeding conditions of livestock and livestock product quality.

Meanwhile, scientific researches on animal-related diseases were also beefed up.

In the newly published plan of scientific and technological development (2006-2020), the surveillance, quarantine, testing and diagnosis of animal-born diseases were listed as crucial tasks.

China's health system itself is also much stronger compared with that in 2003 when the SARS hit China.

According to Premier Wen Jiabao's work report delivered to the on-going NPC session, about 10.5 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) has been invested over the past three years to build China's disease prevention and control network. Another 16.4 billion yuan was input to establish the country's response system for public health emergencies.

But still, Chinese health officials remain vigilant.

"There are still some problems in the emergency response network," Vice Minister of Health Wang Longde said, noting that further improvement should be made to enforce the people's observance of law and regulations, implementation of government orders, administrative supervision and efficiency of disease reporting.

He also underlined that more substantial efforts should be made to train more local health workers and improve their ability to sense a public health crisis and to detect possible epidemics.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2006)

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