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Tainted milk powder sickens 1,253 babies in China
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The number of Chinese infants stricken with kidney stones caused by contaminated milk powder soared to 1,253 with two dead as of 8 a.m. on Monday, the Ministry of Health said here on Monday.

According to the ministry, most of the cases occurred in Hebei, Jiangsu and Gansu provinces. The two deaths were both in the northwest Gansu Province.

The tainted milk powder was produced by the Sanlu Group, the country's diary giant in the northern Hebei Province. The powder was found to contain melamine, a chemical raw material believed to cause the condition.

Among the babies, 53 were in critical condition while 340 were receiving hospital treatment. The remaining 913 diagnosed with light symptoms were either receiving treatment outside hospital or were cured, the ministry said at a press conference.

Chinese Medical Association experts said there would be no permanent damage to the children's kidney functions if they received timely and proper treatment.

Ministry spokesman Ma Xiaowei said special hospitals had been appointed nationwide to launch treatment for all the infants with the stones. "With scientific, timely and effective treatment, we will try our best to avoid further deaths."

To avoid incisions to the children's skin and sequela, the ministry urged health organizations nationwide to try and not to use radiotherapy, anesthesia and surgery during treatments.

Responding to a reporter's question on the large-scale affection, Ding Jie, a Chinese Medical Association expert, admitted many domestic hospital workers didn't know how to check a kidney for melamine.

She said experts had now drawn out a very detailed scheme on diagnosing and dealing with the condition. "We very much hope that the scheme will be practical and easy so that hospitals at all levels are capable of the treatments."

Ma said the ministry had also sent medical workers to remote counties and villages for inspections and treatments. "All the treatments should be free of charge," he added.

The ministry said the milk powder case is a food safety accident, and all infants involved would be compensated according to rules following the investigation.

"No matter how many cases are found, health organizations across the country are able to cope with the problem caused by the tainted milk powder," Ma said.

Earlier reports said a total of 19 people from private milk collecting stations have been detained by police in Hebei for allegedly putting melamine into the milk provided for the Sanlu Group.

Melamine is used in plastics and other industries and is strictly forbidden in food processing. Experts said it was added into raw milk so that the protein content of the milk appeared higher than it is actually.

According to an earlier press conference, Sanlu Group had got complaints about its baby milk powder in March and then confirmed the problems through its own investigation. It also took actions to recall some of these products. However, for a long time after that the group didn't report it to the government neither did it reveal the information to the public.

The central government vowed to release relevant information in time, including the investigation result of the incident, the treatment of the infant patients and the quality of other brands of milk powder.

(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2008)


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