The vast rural areas of the country should be given more support in fighting tuberculosis (TB), officials and experts said.
Eighty per cent of China's TB victims are in the country's rural areas.
Mao Qun'an, deputy director of the Ministry of Health's General Office, said: "TB has become one of the main diseases that make lots of rural families fall into serious poverty in the country, which has 4.5 million TB patients."
Mao was speaking at a public education event on TB for rural residents, held in Beijing's Mentougou District on Sunday to mark the 21st World TB Day, which fell yesterday.
In China, 550 million people are infected with the tubercle bacillus. Of the 4.5 million TB patients, 1.5 million are contagious, statistics from 2000 show.
The number of TB patients in China is the second largest in the world after India. The death rate has been steadily descending but the latest figure still shows 120,000 people dying in one year.
The prevalence rate differs greatly between various areas of China. The majority of the country's poverty-stricken population live in western China, where the prevalence rate is 1.7 times that of northern China. The prevalence rate in the countryside is twice that in urban areas.
Some 63.8 per cent of China's TB patients are young and middle-aged people between 15 and 59 years old, which results in a heavy loss of working days and adversely affects gross domestic product.
More than 60 per cent of patients from rural areas have left hospital before fully recovering because they could not afford to pay for the treatment and were not covered by medical insurance, said Wang Lushen, vice-director of the China National Health Economics Institute.
Due to inappropriate treatment and economic difficulties, the drug resistance rate among TB patients is 27.8 per cent. The transmission of drug-resistant bacilli will make new patients drug-resistant from the outset.
China has received funds from international organizations and other countries in fighting TB.
The funds, added to investment by various levels of government, will be used to implement the TB-control strategy DOTS nationwide, said Liu Jianjun, director of the National Center for Tuberculosis Control and Prevention.
Under DOTS, a patient takes medicine under the observation of a doctor. The strategy can ensure that contagious patients receive treatment without hospitalization, Liu said. It can effectively prevent the transmission of drug resistance and reduce relapses, he noted.
In 2010, the DOTS program is expected to cover more than 95 per cent of Chinese mainland counties, Liu told China Daily yesterday.
(China Daily March 25, 2003)