Healthcare program for pregnant women launched in China

BEIJING - A programme to help pregnant women get better healthcare and prevent birth defects has been launched.

The programme plans to establish 22 training centers in 11 central and western provinces to improve ultrasound diagnosis, especially by doctors in far-flung areas.

Initiated by the China Medical Foundation and Samsung Electronics, the programme was launched in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, in early November.

Pregnant women in these areas will have better facilities and diagnosis, said He Pijie, director general of the China Medical Foundation.

Statistics from China's Birth Defects Prevention Report in 2012 shows that nearly 150 out of every 10,000 infants had congenital defects in China. The report also indicates that birth defects not only cause disability but also become a leading cause of death among Chinese infants.

"Especially in China's central and west regions, the lack of fundamental equipment and doctors with proper experience are causing even higher death rates for infants," He explained.

Many hospitals in rural areas of Central and West China don't have any medical checks such as type-B ultrasound, which can effectively diagnose if a baby is carrying a natural disorder or not, he added.

"Many pregnant women in rural areas have to travel for hours in order to take a medical examination in county hospitals. This inconvenience has caused many of them to give up regular checks," He said.

According to the plan, some 24,000 doctors will be trained and most of them are from county or township hospitals.

Zhang Yesong, 32, is among the first batch of doctors to be trained and he believes the programme will definitely help many doctors like him.

Zhang said as a doctor from a county hospital in Guizhou, lack of experience is the most common drawback he has encountered.

He said his hospital had several advanced items of medical equipment, but doctors lacked the skill to operate them. Meanwhile, they have little experience in diagnosing certain types of rare cases and have to transfer them to bigger hospitals.

"That's causing a lot trouble because traveling in a mountainous region like Guizhou for pregnant women could be tough."

According to Zhang, death rates have been reduced at county level in recent years in Guizhou, but the real issue remains in rural areas.

"A lot of pregnant women don't have access to regular medical checks until their baby is about to be born," said Zhang.

Most common birth defects, such as congenital heart disease or cleft lip and palate, can be found during early pregnancy tests, said Zhang Guangqi, deputy director of Guizhou's health department.

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