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Health Minister Calls for Rural Healthcare Reform
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A bird flu outbreak could spread quickly in rural areas because of the loopholes in the public health system, Health Minister Gao Qiang warned yesterday.

Speaking at the China Development Forum, Gao conceded that the country's disease control and prevention system needed more professional medical staff, better infrastructure, and more funds.

The bird flu virus has claimed 14 human lives on the mainland since 2003.

"There are loopholes at the grassroots level because of the absence of specialized professionals, poor emergency response mechanisms, and an incomplete information network at the county and town-level disease control and prevention institutions," he said.

"Bird flu has become a serious new contagious disease threatening human health," he said, adding, "Rural areas are more susceptible to a bird flu attack."

"A deficient disease control and prevention system in rural areas could become a big obstacle in the efforts to check the spread of bird flu."

One of the most difficult things to do in the prevention and control of bird flu is to trace the source of the disease, Gao added.

Last month, a farmer in Jian'ou in east China's Fujian Province tested positive for the dreaded bird flu strain of H5N1, becoming the latest human infection case on the mainland.

The 44-year-old woman, surnamed Li, currently being treated at a hospital in Jian'ou, is still in a critical condition, says Xinhua. No chickens, ducks, or wild birds around Li's village were found to be suffering from the strain.

Minister of Agriculture Sun Zhengcai had said before the National People's Congress annual session that the ministry had not detected any animal bird flu cases since September 20.

(China Daily March 19, 2007)

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