The Ministry of Health has pledged to ensure the right to free
tuberculosis (TB) detection and treatment services, particularly
among migrant workers.
The move is part of a major effort to curb the spread of TB,
which has become China's top epidemic killer, with more than
130,000 people dying from the disease every year.
The country has about 5 million TB patients, 80 percent of whom
live in the countryside, statistics of the Ministry of Health
"The mobile population, especially underprivileged migrant
workers, have full access to free healthcare services in TB
screening and treatment," Xiao Donglou, vice-director of the
ministry's disease prevention and control bureau (CCDCP), said at a
"People infected with the airborne contagious disease should
turn to local TB prevention and treatment organizations, where free
disease screening test and further treatment are provided for all
needed citizens, locals and migrants alike."
In 2001 the State Council promised free examinations and
treatment for people infected with TB by earmarking 40 million yuan
(US$5.17 million) in funds every year. The fund steadily increased,
soaring 10-fold by 2006, when it hit 400 million yuan (US$51.7
In recent years, considerable attention has been focused on
farmers-turned-workers, who are under greater risk of contracting
the disease due to comparatively poor medical awareness,
high-density living conditions, and mobile lifestyle, Jiang Shiwen,
director with the National Center for TB Control and Prevention,
With US$50 million from the global fund for TB control put in
play last October, the Chinese government has launched a
special-care program for China's 200 million migrant workers, Jiang
Besides free examinations and treatment, a monthly 100 yuan
(US$12) allowance is distributed to each infected migrant worker in
the two municipalities of Shanghai and Tianjin and five other
economically advanced provinces.
"TB-awareness-raising campaigns among workers should be
intensified as many simply endure the disease without seeking
timely treatment, for fear of being fired and inability to pay high
medical costs," Jiang said, reiterating that TB treatment is free
Left untreated, each person with active TB disease will infect
on average 10 to 15 people yearly, medical experts said.
Every year in China more than 130,000 die from this treatable
disease, nearly 10th of the world's total, WHO statistics show.
Among those who die, many end up with the drug-resistant TB,
which is probably caused by delayed medical intervention, Jiang
Moreover, drug resistance, which occurs in 28 percent of China's
total TB patients, arises from improper treatment regimens by
healthcare workers and failure to ensure that patients complete the
whole treatment course.
In response to mounting concerns over drug resistance, the
Ministry of Health has announced plans to conduct a two-year
national survey. Scheduled to begin in April, the project will
involve 70 research bases covering all of China's provinces, ethnic minority regions, and four
municipalities, a ministry official said.
Xiao Donglou said the ministry would establish a monitoring
system for drug resistance as the study progressed. The survey is
expected to cost more than 17 million yuan (US$2.15 million)
including the purchase of facilities.
A similar survey in 2000 based on a much smaller research pool
showed 27.8 percent of patients were resistant to one drug and 10.7
percent to more than one.
A TB patient who has developed drug resistance will need to be
treated at a cost of 20,000 yuan (US$2,587) to get cured. A common
TB sufferer is treated at a cost of only 150 yuan (US$19.40).
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency March 21, 2007)