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China to provide free medication to curb birth defects
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China will launch a health program to provide free folic acid supplements for 12 million rural women of child-bearing age, to help prevent birth defects in their future babies, the Ministry of Health said here Thursday.

The program seeks to provide folic acid supplements by the end of 2009 to all rural Chinese women wanting a child, Friday's China Daily quoted the ministry as saying.

China, particularly the rural areas, has always been hit hard by varied birth deformities, which afflict about 1.2 million newborns in China each year, said Zhu Jun, deputy director of the National Maternal and Child Health Surveillance Office.

Neural tube defects are common birth defects, as well as congenital heart disease, cleft lip and hydrocephalus.

Of the babies born with defects, only 30 percent can be cured or treated. Another 40 percent suffer lifelong deformities, while the remaining die shortly after birth, health experts have said.

But scientific research has shown that appropriate consumption of folic acid can reduce the incidence of the neural tube defect by 50 to 70 percent.

(Xinhua News Agency June 19, 2009)

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