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Health project launched in China
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National health authorities have teamed up with their international counterparts to launch a project aimed at helping China mitigate the health effects of climate change.

The global project, launched to coincide with World Health Day yesterday, includes efforts to strengthen surveillance and control of infectious diseases, ensure safer use of diminishing water supplies and coordinate responses to emergencies, according to the website of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The US$1.5-million project jointly organized by the WHO and the Ministry of Health (MOH) comes at a time when the effects of extreme weather, such as floods and heat waves, and their indirect consequences, such as infections transmitted by water and food, have been taking their toll on the people of China, Hans Troedsson, WHO representative to China, said.

"Part of a global initiative, (the project) will help China with policy/countermeasure development and capacity-building in terms of addressing climate change-related health challenges facing the nation, a rising economy and the habitat for one-fifth of the world's population," he said.

Because climate change affects the country's varied zones, the project emphasizes the role of local authorities in coming up with policies, he said.

Zhao Yuechao, who heads the environmental health department under the MOH's bureau of health inspection, said there is concern about health problems caused by climate change.

"Four Chinese cities will soon be picked to take part in a trial run of the joint project," he told China Daily.

The poorest people are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and yet they receive little official attention, Carlos Dora, a WHO expert on environmental health, said.

"The western provinces of China should be a focus of the project," he said.

With the project scaling up nationwide over the next three years, the country's ability to manage the health threats caused by climate change is expected to improve at both the national and provincial levels, Zhao said.

Jin Yinlong, director-general of the National Institute for Environment and Health under China's Center for Disease Control, said the project needs more funds from the government and support from the international community.

He also called for an early-warning system to be set up to monitor health threats caused by climate change.

Brent Powis of the WHO said people should support government efforts by adopting environmentally friendly lifestyles.

"The health of the environment is actually in the public's hands," he said.

(China Daily April 8, 2008)

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